Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105
For Immediate Release: August 18, 2011
Johnson reintroduces legislation to eliminate life without parole
sentencing for nonviolent crimes
Constance N. Johnson believes Oklahoma's sentencing guidelines
regarding life without parole for nonviolent drug crimes are unfair,
costly and, in the case of Larry Yarbrough, a waste of tax payer
Johnson believes Yarbrough’s case is a perfect example of
the unfairness of the system and the magnitude of misspent millions.
In 2010, Johnson introduced Senate Bill 2325 to address sentencing
for nonviolent drug offenders. Her bill, which was not given a hearing
in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary,
would have done away with life without parole sentencing for nonviolent
drug offenses. It would have also required the Pardon and Parole
Board to review all existing life without parole sentences for nonviolent
crime cases that are ongoing. Johnson also had another measure,
SB 2328, that dealt with punishment enhancements for felony offenses.
That measure was not given a hearing either. On Wednesday, she filed
SB 986, a combination of her two previous bills, to be heard during
the 2011 session.
Citing information obtained from the National Sentencing Project,
Johnson feels her legislation will address the high cost of life
without parole sentences, its shortsightedness, and its failure
to allow the potential for transformative growth.
“Numerous studies have shown that these sentences do not reduce
drug use, but rather result in lengthy prison terms that contribute
to overcrowding and increased costs,” Johnson said.
“Wednesday’s hearing was timely with regard to a statewide
advocacy push to achieve this and other measures that evidence shows
will reduce the costs of incarceration to our state. Fortunately,
other state and local officials are beginning to see that the current
system has filled our prisons to near capacity, cost the state millions
in tax dollars, and still isn’t working,” Johnson said.
“We must develop more reasonable and cost effective policies
to address drug crimes rather than locking up offenders for life,
something that financially hurts the state as well as the families
of these individuals.”
According to the Department of Corrections, there are currently
48 individuals in the state corrections system serving life without
parole sentences for nonviolent drug offenses (trafficking illegal
"We took a step in the right direction in the legislature this
past session passing major reforms for our state’s correction
system under House Bill 2131, which included taking the Governor
out of the parole process for nonviolent offenses, expanding community
sentencing eligibility, and GPS monitoring for nonviolent offenders.
These steps which will save our state millions of dollars, and still
protect the public from the state’s most dangerous, violent
offenders,” said Johnson. “These were great first steps
but we have even more to do this coming session and beyond. We need
to ensure that offenders’ sentences fairly match their crimes,
both as a matter of human decency and fiscal responsibility.”
Yarbrough’s case, which has garnered national attention (http://tinyurl.com/4yfgwjm),
will now go to Gov. Mary Fallin for consideration.
On Wednesday, Johnson attended Yarbrough’s hearing before
the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. A model prisoner, the 61-year-old
is serving his 17th year of a life without parole sentence for a
nonviolent drug crime. The Board recommended commutation of his
sentence to 42 years; and Johnson is urging the Gov. Fallin to approve
the Board’s recommendation. If she supports the recommendation,
Yarbrough could be eligible for parole in February 2012.
In 2002, the Board recommended commutation of his sentence to 20
year, but the request was denied by then Gov. Frank Keating.
“We have murderers, rapists and child molesters getting paroled,
but here is a husband, father, grandfather, business owner and community
servant who could spend half his life in prison costing the state
millions of dollars,” said Johnson. “We have people
serving less time for greater amounts of drugs than what Mr. Yarbrough
was convicted of—an ounce of cocaine and three marijuana cigarettes.
Surely 17 years is a long enough punishment for his crime. In the
name of justice and common sense, I urge Governor Fallin to accept
the Board’s recommendations.”
- Wes Johnson with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (Mr. Johnson
was one of the scheduled speakers at the press conference Wednesday.
After it was rescheduled for Thursday, he unable to attend because
of a previous court engagement, but provided these comments)
For more information, contact:
Sen. Johnson: (405) 521-5531