Major Criminal Justice Reform Measures Signed Into Law
The Chamber has been a strong advocate for legislation and funding for sentencing reform and rehabilitation/treatment programs to ease the financial drain on Oklahoma's criminal justice system, lessen the burden on jails and prisons throughout the state and allow non-violent, low-level offenders to enter the workforce more quickly. The Chamber was strongly supportive of the recommendations of the Governor's Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform and actively participated in the process that resulted in a number of important measures, which stalled last session, but advanced and became law this year.
The Chamber worked with Gov. Fallin, legislative leadership, the District Attorneys' Council, the State Chamber and others to negotiate legislation that allowed nine key reform measures to be signed into law by Gov. Fallin on April 26. There was clear recognition by all parties that Oklahoma cannot continue down an unsustainable path that was projected to increase Oklahoma's prison population 25 percent by 2026 and result in the need to construct three new prisons at a cost of $1.9 billion to taxpayers. The Chamber applauds all stakeholders involved for the enactment of these vital measures that demonstrate significant progress in a short time in changing the previous practices that led to the state becoming a national leader in incarceration. Following is a brief description of the key criminal justice measures:
- SB 1098 - creates the Criminal Justice Reclassification Council to review and recommend changes to the Oklahoma Criminal Code to reduce the state's prison population.
- SB 650 - authorizes no more than one nonviolent felony to apply for expungement if there are no new convictions within seven years.
- SB 786 - eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence and allows a judge to sentence up to the current maximum sentence of seven years for burglary in the second degree, and creates a new felony offense, burglary in the third degree (defined as breaking into a vehicle), punishable by no more than five years in prison.
- SB 649 - reduces enhanced sentences for certain repeat nonviolent felonies.
- SB 689 - creates risk and needs assessment as a tool for sentencing.
- SB 793 - changes the penalties for commercial drug offenses, and distinguishes conduct by possession with intent to distribute, distribution and manufacturing.
- HB 2281 - adjusts penalties for many low-level property offenses, including larceny, forgery and other "paper crimes."
- HB 2286 - creates an administrative parole process for nonviolent offenders who comply with case plans in prison so the Pardon and Parole Board can focus on more serious offenders, and establishes a geriatric parole release process for inmates 60 and older who have been determined to not be a public safety risk.
In addition, the state's budget agreement provides for $5 million to enhance criminal justice diversion programs, including $4 million for screening offenders in felony cases to assess whether a person is a high or low risk criminal, and $1 million to expand mental health and drug courts.
For more information, please contact Mark VanLandingham.