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Criminal Justice Reform Supporters Rally At Oklahoma Capitol

Michael Cross
Former House Speaker Kris Steele (right) and Rep. George Young (left) speak at the podium during the Rally for Criminal Justice Reform today at the Oklahoma State Capitol.

Criminal justice reform supporters rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday in a final push for bills to reduce prison populations.

The group Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform says about ten bills from the Governor's Justice Reform Initiative are still alive in conference committee and could pass before the end of session on May 26th.

Former House Speaker Kris Steele says fixing the broken justice system is absolutely a budget issue.

"These reforms represent about $2 billion dollars' worth of savings to the state of Oklahoma. The fact that conservatives and progressives have come together to work on this issue signals that it's both a fiscally conservative issue, as well as a matter of social justice."

The Shawnee Republican and Methodist minister says 75-percent of everyone admitted to the Department of Corrections have been convicted on nonviolent offenses.

"Without passage of these bills, Oklahoma will become number one in incarceration rates, and that's simply unacceptable. It's unacceptable from a financial standpoint and it's unacceptable from a human standpoint as well. We are incarcerating nonviolent offenders left and right."

Steele says some of the issues in the bills deal with habitual offenses, creating a new category for burglary, and sentencing reforms.

He says passage of State Questions 780 and 781 shows Oklahomans are ready to move from “Tough on Crime” policies to “Smart on Crime” initiatives.

Michael Cross has been with KOSU since 2008, working as the state capitol bureau chief for seven years, as well as KOSU's student coordinator. While he still keeps up with the capitol and does some reporting, his roles have changed. As of October 2014, he's now the host of KOSU's Morning Edition.
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