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Individuals in Oklahoma serve, on average, nearly 70 percent longer for property crimes and 80 percent longer for drug crimes than the national average. This is mainly due to the state’s “habitual offender” statute that can double and triple sentence lengths, and often increases the maximum term to life. Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City, wants to address this issue by modifying convictions for second felony offenses of nonviolent offenders.
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved Senate Bill 287 Wednesday. The bill limits the enhancement for people who commit non-violent, non-sexual felonies with limited criminal history to a period equal to the maximum for a first offense plus an additional quarter of the maximum.
“To decrease our prison population, reduce recidivism and help incarcerated individuals become productive citizens, we must reform our sentencing process. These long sentences for non-violent crimes do nothing to help address the causes of offenders’ criminal behavior or help rehabilitate them. They only continue to increase our prison population costing the state millions of dollars,” Coleman said. “It’s estimated, that by modifying second felony offenses, Oklahoma can reduce its projected prison population by as much as 17 percent within a decade.”
The legislation has strong public support. An October 2018 poll by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform found that 66 percent of Oklahoma voters believe habitual offender enhancements should only be applied when a person’s current offense is violent.
Senate Bill 287 will next be heard by the full Senate.