Oklahoma legislators took a step toward reforming the way the state deals with nonviolent offenders on March 15, with the House of Representatives passing a corrections reform bill backed by both fiscal conservatives and social reformers.
House Bill 2131 would shorten the time “low-risk, nonviolent” offenders spend behind bars in favor of expanded use of electronic monitoring, treatment programs and other forms of supervised release.
“With House Bill 2131, I believe we’ve laid the foundation for Oklahoma to consider how to do things differently,” House Speaker Kris Steele, author of the bill, said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
“This is an opportunity … to show there is a better way, especially as it pertains to low-risk, nonviolent offenders.”
The news conference was held under the auspices of Right on Crime, a national organization examining conservative ideas on criminal justice reform and supported in this state by the conservativeOklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
The reforms sought by Steele and Right on Crime, however, are also supported in large part by nonprofit organizations that work with offenders.
“This is one of the issues that defies party politics,” Steele said. “It makes sense fiscally, we know it will save the state money. It’s also a human resources issue. It makes a difference in the lives of offenders and their families.”
HB 2131 went through the House without discussion by a vote of 87-4, shortly after the body went into session Tuesday morning, March 15. It was followed by passage of SB 970, which authorizes the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to use $5.25 million generated by prison industries for operations.
Opponents said the measure would cripple prison industries and, in the end, be insufficient to avoid furloughs of corrections officers.
“It’s not that we don’t have the money, it’s that we don’t want to spend the money” to prevent furloughs, said Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Goodwell.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections had sought $9 million to get it through the end of the budget year that ends June 30.