State Rep. Terry O’Donnell authored three bills advancing criminal justice reform that passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives last week.
“Our state is struggling to deal with over-incarceration,” said O’Donnell, R-Catoosa. “Oklahoma has the second highest imprisonment rate in the country and corrections currently costs the state half a billion dollars annually. These measures protect the public, but at the same time offer legitimate alternatives to imprisonment. This will both save the state money and more than meet our public safety goals.”
House Bill 2281 creates graduated penalties for those accused of certain larceny or forgery crimes, reducing some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and modifying fines as well as the mandatory lengths of sentences. The bill passed by a vote of 84-8.
House Bill 2284 would require public defenders to receive continuing education training regarding best treatment practices for defendants with substance abuse or mental health problems and would require training for judges and state prosecutors on how to best deal with victims of domestic violence and trauma. The training is contingent on funding availability. The bill passed 84-2.
House Bill 2286 would allow some nonviolent state inmates to apply for parole after serving one-fourth of their sentence if they have earned enough credits instead of the one-third now required. The bill also would require additional Pardon and Parole Board member training and better communication from the board to improve parole outcomes. The bill passed the House 81-3.
O’Donnell said the state’s overcrowded prisons pose not only a financial burden but a safety issue for corrections officers, and they open the state to lawsuits. Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the nation for women and the third highest rate for men. Without these and other reform measures, Oklahoma’s prison population is expected to grow by 25 percent over the next 10 years, which would cost a total of $1.9 billion.
These measures are intended to eliminate the need for more than 7,800 prison beds at an estimated savings of about $148.7 million.