A governor's task force to develop recommendations for reducing Oklahoma's prison population and alleviate prison overcrowding is considering modifications to the state's "85 Percent Rule."
The 85 Percent Rule refers to the requirement that people convicted of certain crimes must serve a minimum of 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Most of the crimes listed as 85 percent crimes are violent felonies; however, aggravated drug trafficking is on the list as well. Governor Mary Fallin's general counsel, Jennifer Chance, confirmed that the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, which is scheduled to make its recommendations to the governor and the state legislature on December 15, is considering modifying the the 85 percent rule. However, she says that the modification would only apply to drug crimes, and it would not affect the 85 percent requirement for violent crime convictions.
Many prosecutors were concerned that the task force was considering lowering the mandatory minimum for violent crimes as well. Their concern came from a policy option presented to the task force that would remove certain violent crimes from the 85 percent requirement, and instead require people convicted of those crimes to serve 70 percent of the sentence, rather than 85.
However, task force members, including Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, say that the task force will not recommend lowering sentencing or removing violent crimes from the 85 percent list. Prater told local reporters that the 85 Percent Rule is not negotiable, saying, "
"The most violent and dangerous offenders, that's why we have our prison beds."
Prater and Oklahoma District Attorneys Association president Mike Fields say that the task force is still at work in developing recommendations, and it is too soon to speculate what the group will recommend.
Fields, who is the District Attorney for Blaine, Canadian, Garfield, Grant and Kingfisher counties, says that public safety is his priority in creating a plan to reduce prison overcrowding: "I'll oppose any proposals that are contrary to Oklahoma's public safety interests."
The majority of Oklahoma inmates are not imprisoned for violent crimes. Chance says that 67 percent of the male inmate population and 70 percent of the female inmate population are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. She says the task force is working on recommendations for lowering the nonviolent inmate population while keeping violent offenders behind bars.
After the task force presents its report to the legislature on December 15, their recommendations could become the basis for legislative action in 2017.