The full Senate has given bipartisan approval to a slate of common sense criminal justice reforms. The four measures, which were proposed by Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Committee, would still hold criminals accountable, but represent a better approach to dealing with nonviolent offenders that will help reduce chronic prison overcrowding, reduce recidivism, and ultimately help save taxpayer dollars.
Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove, and Rep Pam Peterson, R-Tulsa, are the principal authors of the bills which were approved by the full Senate on Wednesday.
“These reforms ensure public safety is still our highest priority. The Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, along with a host of other organizations, agrees,” Treat said. “We must hold those who break the law accountable, and the most violent, dangerous and predatory criminals should be behind bars. These proposals have been well vetted and represent a smarter and less expensive way to deal with those that commit nonviolent crimes.”
Treat’s legislation includes:
HB 2472, which gives prosecutors discretion to file charges as a misdemeanor instead of a felony;
HB 2479, which reduces the mandatory punishment for subsequent drug offenses; and
HB 2751, which raises the threshold for property crimes to be charged as a felony to $1,000.
A fourth measure, HB 2753 by Shaw, enables a broader use of drug courts.
“Sooner or later, these individuals are released from prison. If they haven’t gained the skills they need to change their lives, chances are they will wind up right back behind bars,” Shaw said. “Drug Courts work because those participating must undergo treatment. Those who didn’t graduate must complete their GED. They go to work. In short, they are much more likely to become productive members of society than those who are simply incarcerated with even worse criminals.”
Shaw pointed out the cost for an individual to complete that program is about $5,000 per year, compared to an average of $20,000 a year for a person sent to prison.
“I am pleased the Senate passed these smart-on-crime, evidence-based measures to help us curb the growing incarceration rate that threatens to overwhelm our state prison system,” said Peterson. “Our continued focus on how we deal with nonviolent offenders strikes a balance between right-sizing our system and ensuring that criminals receive appropriate punishments for their crimes."
The bills now go to the governor for her approval.