Fallin Signs Seven Criminal Justice Reform Bills To Combat Prison Growth

  • Quinton Chandler

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Gov. Mary Fallin signed seven criminal justice reform bills this week ending a bumpy ride for legislation designed to curb prison population growth in Oklahoma.

Fallin says the measures represent smart ways to protect public safety, keep families together — and save taxpayer money.

Most of the legislation was introduced in 2017 but stalled in committee. This year, the bills were reconsidered after compromises between legislators, district attorneys and other government agencies.

  • Under Senate Bill 649, prosecutors won’t be able to pursue sentence enhancements, or tougher sentences, for offenders who have a previous felony drug possession conviction. It also reduces punishments for other nonviolent crimes commonly associated with substance abuse.
  • SB 650 loosens requirements for people convicted of nonviolent felonies to have their convictions expunged.
  • SB689 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 the increase of supervision terms if people can’t pay courtordered fines or fees. It would also be more difficult to remove offenders from probation and send them to prison for technical violations.
  • SB786 eliminates the mandatory minimum for second-degree burglary and re-defines vehicle break-ins as third-degree burglary, which carries a lower sentence.
  • SB793 changes punishments for drug distribution and distinguishes between punishments for possession with intent to distribute, manufacturing and distribution.
  • House Bill 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 Oklahomas 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.

Lawmakers expect the changes to stop a projected 25 percent increase in state prison populations over the next eight years.

Kris Steele, chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, said “there is more to do,” but praised lawmakers for passing the reforms. He says the legislation signals a political and public desire to keep people out of prisons.

Most of the signed bills passed both legislative chambers with overwhelming support.

Editor’s Note: In a previous version of this story, StateImpact incorrectly stated that under SB689 tampering with an ankle monitor was a technical violation that would not be grounds to send a person on probation to prison. Tampering with an ankle monitor is one of the specific violations that would not be considered a technical violation.