Governor Mary Fallin signed a criminal justice reform bill after complaining that her plan to release more criminals had been stopped in the Oklahoma House.
Fallin complained that state prisons are overcrowded and would add more than 7,000 more criminals in the next 10 years.
“Without jeopardizing public safety, with these bills, we could have implemented smart, data-driven solutions to safely and prudently fix our criminal justice system,” Fallin said.
Fallin appointed a task force which recommended 12 bills but only three were passed.
Representative Scott Biggs, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Criminal Justice and Corrections, announced that he has requested an interim study to discuss which specific crimes should be considered violent or nonviolent.
“As a supporter of responsible criminal justice reform, I feel a duty to protect public safety first and foremost,” said Biggs, R-Chickasha. “The major sticking point this past session was the list of crimes considered to be nonviolent. The governor and other reform advocates were demanding passage of legislation that would have lowered sentences for domestic abuse, hate crimes, child trafficking and other violent crimes. I think it’s in the best interest of criminal justice reform for everyone to publicly engage in a dialogue about which crimes should be considered violent, and which crimes should be considered nonviolent.”
Biggs said his goal in the study is to look at each and every crime in an attempt to ensure the public is protected with any new reform measure.
“Violent crimes should not receive early release or lighter sentences,” Biggs said.
House Speaker Charles McCall said that remaining criminal justice reform bills from this session will be worked on during the interim.
“Without a doubt, criminal justice reform is a priority for the Legislature because it greatly affects public safety and our state budget,” said McCall, R-Atoka. “I certainly support the goals of criminal justice reform, but several members wanted to ensure there were no unintended consequences resulting from a handful of the bills that were introduced this year. By completing this work next session we are going to do in two years what it took Texas six years to complete. Other states have had some missteps and growing pains caused by unforeseen problems and by moving too quickly. We can learn from their mistakes and ensure that our reforms are done in a way that balances public safety, victim’s rights, human dignity and cost efficiency. I believe our efforts during the interim will provide an open forum for reform advocates, law enforcement and other stakeholders to discuss the best way to move these bills forward next session.”
The committee meetings are open to the public and streamed live online. The meetings will most likely be held in September. Other details will be announced later.