The Senate unanimously approved legislation Thursday to modify the state’s “habitual offender” statute in an effort to decrease Oklahoma’s overcrowded prison system. Senate Bill 287, by Sen. Bill Coleman, modifies convictions for second and subsequent nonviolent, nonsexual felony offenses. The bill requires these offenders to serve no more than the maximum sentence plus one-fourth of the sentence that could have been imposed for a first conviction of the current offense.
“In Oklahoma, offenders with nonviolent felonies, who commit property and drug crimes, serve as much as 70 to 80 percent longer than the national average,” said Coleman, R-Ponca City. “Studies have shown that longer prison sentences for these types of offenders does nothing to rehabilitate them or lower recidivism rates yet the state continues to double and triple their sentences further increasing our out of control prison population.”
The public strongly supports SB 287 as was evident in an October 2018 poll by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. According to the poll, 66 percent of Oklahoma voters believe habitual offender enhancements should only be applied when a person’s current offense is violent.
Coleman noted that lowering these types of sentences will save the state substantial money and lower the prison population. According to the Department of Corrections, the FY’18 costs of incarceration in a state facility for minimum security is $46.45/day, medium security is $46.73/day and maximum security is $98.19/day.
“Instead of warehousing these offenders, we need to get them the treatment, education or training they need to avoid the crimes that landed them in prison. Typically, these individuals suffer with addictions, mental illness or lacked education and training to support their families and turned to easy money through criminal behavior,” said Coleman. “By modifying sentencing for second felony offenses, we can lower our prison population over time, decrease recidivism and get these individuals back to their families where they can begin contributing to society. I want to thank my Senate colleagues for their support of this important criminal justice reform measure.”
Senate Bill 287 now heads to the House for further consideration.