The Oklahoma Legislature gave final approval on four criminal justice reform bills and sent them to the governor Tuesday. Here’s a breakdown of the measures and what they’re designed to do:
- Under SB 649, prosecutors won’t be able to pursue sentence enhancements, or tougher sentences, for offenders whose only previous felony is a drug possession conviction. It also reduces punishments for other nonviolent crimes commonly associated with substance abuse.
- SB 689 allows inmates serving life without parole to be eligible for sentence modification after they’ve served 10 years. It also encourages the Department of Corrections to offer different behavioral treatment programs through probation and other community sentencing programs. It bans increases in supervision terms if the increase is ordered because an offender can’t afford to pay court-ordered fines or fees. Offenders also would not be disqualified from community sentencing and sent to prison for technical violations like, tampering with an ankle monitor.
- HB 2281 defines punishments for property crime so that prison terms and fines are dependent on the dollar value of the property affected.
- HB 2286 overhauls Oklahoma’s parole system. Inmates serving sentences for nonviolent offenses would be eligible for parole sooner. It also attempts to streamline parole reviews so that more eligible inmates are considered each year. The bill requires the Pardon and Parole Board to grant inmates parole if they meet certain criteria like, maintaining good behavior throughout their incarceration.
The measures passed both chambers with overwhelming support and are now waiting for the governor’s signature.
Advocates of criminal justice reform praised the measures and called for more action.
“These reforms establish a solid foundation to continue efforts to safely control prison growth and make better use of limited state resources,” said Kris Steele chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. “We recognize this package doesn’t go as far as the task force’s initial recommendations that would have flatlined prison population growth, but we are encouraged by the momentum, nonetheless.”
Lawmakers wrote the bills after hearing recommendations from a bipartisan criminal justice reform task force on ways to reduce the state’s overcrowded prisons.
The legislature is expected to consider other reform bills before the 2018 session ends.
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