Criminal law

Oklahoma lawmakers finally fund criminal justice reforms that voters approved in 2016


State dollars will soon begin flowing into counties to support diversion and drug treatment programs, but ongoing efforts to update the state’s criminal sentencing code lost steam in the final weeks of the hearing.

Here’s a look at how state lawmakers handled criminal justice issues during the 2023 legislative session, which concluded Friday:

The big impact: Nearly seven years after voters approved criminal justice reforms in 780 state questions And 781Then, lawmakers settled on a way to calculate the savings accrued from incarcerating fewer people and distribute the money between counties.

Capitol Watch 2023

Keaton Ross reviews the legislature’s actions and inaction during the session that concluded Friday and their impact on:

Senate Bill 844 It requires the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) to calculate the annual savings attributable to the passage of State Question 780. Once that figure is finalized, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is tasked with overseeing those funds and sending requests for proposals to county governments. County officials may seek funds to develop substance abuse treatment, employment, diversion, or housing programs.

The state’s Question 780, which reclassified many drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, helped the state reduce the prison population by nearly 20% over the past five years. But some county jail directors say the change has increased demand in their facilities for mental health care and substance abuse services.

Related State Question 781 was supposed to direct savings on incarcerating fewer people in counties, but the legislature has yet to fund services in the manner described in the voter-approved initiative.

Senator Roger Thompson, the sponsor of the bill, said earlier this year that LOFT has demonstrated its ability to perform complex calculations and that measure should have an effect soon.

“Senate Bill 844 honors the will of the people who voted for these changes and the intent of the law, but most importantly it will help change lives for the better throughout Oklahoma,” Thompson said.

In the budget deal sent to the governor this week, Lawmakers allocated $12.5 million towards the Community Safety Investment Fund.

Also note: Prosecutors will soon be able to demand heavier sentences for some repeat drug possession offenses.

under House Bill 2153Defendants convicted of a fourth drug possession offense within a 10-year period may receive a prison sentence of 1-5 years. The bill, which does not apply to marijuana-related offenses, notes that a felony can be reduced to a misdemeanor if the defendant completes a court-ordered diversion program.

“A lot of municipalities in Oklahoma want this bill so they can help reduce the problems they have with drug use,” Rep. Ross Ford, R-Tulsa, said in a House debate May 16. DUI laws are similarly designed.

State signed the measure, which will take effect on November 1, into law earlier this week. Criminal justice reform advocates and some lawmakers argue that the bill overrides parts of State Question 780 and contradicts the will of the voters. Thirty-five representatives, including more than a dozen Republicans, voted against the measure.

“They’re falling back into their old habits of demonizing and punishing people,” said Rep. John Waldron, a Tulsa Democrat. “This is a big government solution to a problem affecting Oklahoma families. It’s a bad direction to go.”

leave behind: For the second year in a row, sweeping action Implementation of a felony classification system failed to reach the governor’s desk.

Supporters of effort says Oklahoma’s criminal law is outdated with extremely wide sentencing ranges, causing penalties to vary widely across counties. For example, someone Convicted of burglary in the second degree He could be sentenced anywhere from two years to life in prison.

But reforming the system while appeasing many stakeholders, from judges to prosecutors to advocates of criminal justice reform, has once again proven to be an extremely daunting task.

Keaton Ross covers democracy for the Oklahoma Watch. Call him at (405) 831-9753 or Follow him on Twitter at @_ Keaton Ross.

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