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Criminal Justice Reform Bills Considered By State Legislature

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Seven bills aimed at reducing the prison population and saving Oklahomans money are working their way through the state legislature.

Overcrowding is a common problem.  State prisons are currently at 113 percent capacity.

Altogether, the bills are expected to lower the state’s prison population by about 9,200 inmates.

The goal is to reduce sentences for nonviolent and elderly inmates and focus more on mental health and drug abuse treatment.

“This has been a two-year process with all of the stakeholders – the parole board, D.O.C., the district attorneys,” said Representative Terry O’Donnell.  “These are the product of a great deal of negotiation with law enforcement and corrections officers.”

The bills that passed did not include funding for mental health and substance abuse treatments.

Senate leaders say that will be addressed in the coming weeks.

One of the bills just passed in the Senate lowers the minimum sentence for burglaries, a common crime in Tulsa.

The goal is to make punishment smarter and more effective.

It’ll be a case-by-case basis, but ultimately, convicted crooks could spend no time in jail.

Second degree burglary is a crime that’s reported all of the time.  It could have different punishments in Senate Bill 786 makes it to the governor’s desk.

Right now, it carries a sentence of 2 to 7 years, but the bill calls for no minimum jail time.

For first degree burglary, which is when someone is in their home or car when broken into, the current punishment of 7 to 20 years would change to 4 to 20 years.

“We didn’t get everything that we wanted and I would argue that the criminal justice groups didn’t get everything that they wanted,” said Eric Grayless, an assistant district attorney in Tulsa County.  “That’s probably a good thing for both sides.”

Grayless says district attorneys, law enforcement, and reform groups worked with lawmakers.  He says public safety will still be the top priority.

“We look at the harm caused to the victim and to the property of the victim.  We take all of those things into consideration when we’re making a recommendation,” stated Grayless.

“Without negative consequences for these actions, there’s no reason for them to stop what they’re doing,” said Michael Mancino, who has been the victim of burglary multiple times.

The bill also adds a new crime, burglary in the third degree.  This would be when someone breaks into a vending machine.  It would carry a zero to three year sentence, with the goal of keeping nonviolent offenders out of jail.

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