Criminal justice reform continues locally, statewide

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Since the Chamber announced the creation of a criminal justice reform task force focusing on Oklahoma County's overcrowded jail and criminal justice system, both statewide and local reform measures have gained momentum. The following is a brief summary of important changes that will contribute to a more efficient criminal justice system.

  • The Chamber's task force partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit organization that combines research, technical assistance, and demonstration projects to help leaders in civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety. Vera has completed its first phase of research and is currently engaged in the second phase of gathering information. The second phase of their work in Oklahoma City is a seven-to-nine month detailed data analysis of information from law enforcement, the jail, the courts and service providers. The findings from this information will help the task force develop detailed recommendations for the reduction of Oklahoma County’s incarceration rate and the improvement of its system. Read more about the task force and Vera's work in Oklahoma City in the February issue of the POINT!
  • A  coalition of community leaders and experts from across Oklahoma, including the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, launched Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. This organization, led by former Speaker of the House Kris Steele, focuses on statewide criminal justice reform initiatives. The group is currently collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would reclassify low-level offenses like drug possession as misdemeanors instead of felonies and use those cost savings to invest in rehabilitation programs for drug addiction and mental health conditions. 
    In her February State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin called for significant reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, and in late February, Gov. Fallin signed an executive order that eliminates questions about prior felony convictions from job applications at state agencies.
  • Gov. Fallin also signed four criminal justice measures into law in late April. The measures, all authored by Rep. Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, are intended to curb the growing incarceration rate while saving significant amounts of money. The measures are:
    • House Bill 2472, which gives prosecutors discretion to file charges for crimes that are not subject to the 85 percent rule as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The 85 percent rule requires that those convicted of certain crimes, including rape and murder, serve at least 85 percent of their sentences before they can be considered for release.
    • HB 2479, which reduces the mandatory minimum sentence for drug offenders charged only with possession.
    • HB 2751, which raises the threshold for property crimes classified as felonies to $1,000 from $500.
    • HB 2753, which would broaden defendants’ eligibility for drug courts and community sentencing.