Authors of crime reclassification plan call it compromise, but reform supporters want more

An interim study by a Tulsa state lawmaker looked at sentencing reform recommendations from a 22-member council that the authors argued as a necessary compromise and reform advocates said not to go far enough.

Republican Senator Dave Rader wanted to know more about the proposal, which would create 14 categories of crimes, each with a range of sentences, a minimum percentage that must be served and improvements for any previous convictions.

Oklahomans Deputy Director for Criminal Justice Reform Colleen McCarty said Kansas has 13,000 fewer people locked up than Oklahoma. Kansas has a commission that annually reviews sentencing laws and uses a plan similar to that proposed by the Oklahoma reclassification board.

“But the way they do it is they divide it into violent and non-violent crimes. So that person isn’t just subjected to a longer range based on having a background. It’s the type of background she has that dictates whether or not they have a longer reach, ”McCarty said.

State law that created the reclassification board requires that its recommendation diminish or have a neutral impact on the Oklahoma inmate population.

There are concurrent analyzes of the proposal. Justice reform advocates are throwing 1,000 more people in jail over 10 years.

“We believe this is due to the new time served requirements, particularly for 85% non-violent crimes and non-violent crimes. There should be an effect over the past 10 years where some of the reductions of 85% % are starting to have a positive impact on the prison population, ”said Felicity Rose, director of research and policy for criminal justice reform.

Those convicted of offenses that state law defines as violent must serve at least 85% of their sentence, but not all crimes against another person are defined as violent.

The Department of Corrections predicts a neutral impact on the prison population at first, with the average time spent behind bars decreasing by six months. The DOC ultimately projects 860 fewer detainees, although this may take 45 years.

“I think probably everyone in this room agrees that we need to reclassify – we need to reclassify, we need to restructure our penal code – but from… a place that would keep our prison population constant, that’s not a neutral position It is a position in favor of very punitive and excessive sentences, ”said Ryan Gentzler, director of Open Justice Oklahoma.

Gentzler said Oklahoma has the third highest incarceration rate in the country because people are locked up longer than they would be in other states for the same crimes. The state is 16th in the country for new prison admissions per year.

Cleveland, Garvin and McLain Counties District Attorney Greg Mashburn said the reclassification plan would provide the certainty prosecutors are looking for.

“A big drug dealer in Garvin County, we give him 11, he’s on an ankle monitor in 12 months, and [the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics] made another case about him selling meth in Garvin County. I want a plan where I don’t have to guess at giving 11 and maybe see it back on the streets in 12 months, ”Mashburn said. “I want something where, OK, I can know he’s going to be off the streets for two or three.”

Oklahoma County Chief Public Defender Bob Ravitz served on the reclassification board and said it was an attempt to fix a court system where prosecutors routinely overstep to get sentence length they wish and he cannot confidently tell a client how long they will end up behind bars.

“What this is trying to do is provide honest certainty in the system. That’s what we’re asking for. And I know the money is tight in this state. I’m ready – if we make a mistake. and we start from 200 beds over 10 years, it’s not the end of the world. But we could also have 1000 beds below, and that’s what everyone in the committee understood, “said Ravitz.

Ravitz saw previous sentencing reform efforts in the 1990s fail in Oklahoma, but believes it can be done now.

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