Four New "Smart on Crime" Justice Reform Bills Signed in Oklahoma29-Apr-2016
For decades, our state and nation has taken a "tough-on-crime" approach to prosecuting criminal offenses. Three strikes legislation, mandatory minimums, and notoriously tough drug laws have been the hallmark of a tough on crime approach, but as the years have passed, heavy prosecution and penalization have not led to reduced crime; instead, they have simply created more criminals. Oklahoma's jails and prisons are overcrowded and understaffed. The state has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. One in ten Oklahoma children will have had a parent in jail or prison at some point during their childhood. The state has more than 11,000 kids in foster care.
Clearly, it is time for criminal justice reform, and many Oklahomans are now calling for the legislature and the justice system to take a "smart on crime" approach to criminal justice, rather than the failed "tough on crime" strategies on which we have relied for the past few decades.
Apparently, some lawmakers are listening.
This week Governor Mary Fallin signed into law four criminal justice reform bills that will alleviate unnecessarily harsh sentencing, improve access to drug courts and diversion programs, and will allow discretion in how crimes are prosecuted.
According to a press release from the governor's office, the following bills will become law effective November 1, 2016:
- HB 2472, which gives prosecutors discretion to file charges for non-85 percent crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies.
- HB 2479, which reduces the minimum mandatory punishment for drug offenders charged only with possession.
- HB 2751, which raises the threshold for property crimes to be charged as a felony to $1,000.
- HB 2753, which establishes means for broader use of drug courts and community sentencing.
House Bill 2472 will be codified in 22 O.S. § 234 and will allow prosecutors the discretion to charge nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors upon consideration of the following:
- The nature of the criminal offense;
- The age, background and criminal history of the person who committed the criminal offense
- The character and rehabilitation needs of the person who committed the criminal offense; and
- Whether it is in the best interests of justice to file the charge as a misdemeanor offense rather than a felony offense.
Because such a large percentage of Oklahoma inmates are incarcerated for drug crimes or crimes fueled by drug addiction, reduction of mandatory minimum sentences for possession-only and broader use of drug courts should lead to increased opportunities for rehabilitation and decreased burden on overcrowded jails and prisons and a beleaguered foster care system.
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