May 12, 2011

Gov. Fallin Signs Prison Reform Bill

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Lawmakers took a first step in prison reform Wednesday when Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law that she dubbed landmark corrections reform legislation.

Fallin signed HB 2131, a bill that increases the eligibility for offenders who can be considered for GPS monitoring and community sentencing; enforces a 30-day deadline for the governor to sign paroles for low-risk non-violent offenders; and adds criteria for whom can serve on the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

Fallin said there’s no place in society for people who make victims of their fellow Oklahomans but that those types of offenders are not the majority of the offenders in Oklahoma’s prisons.

“More than half of our inmates in our system are not there because they are violent or they’re evil,” Fallin said. “They are there because they have a substance abuse issue.”

Of the 2,760 female offenders who were in Oklahoma’s prisons in 2010, 64 percent had a moderate to high need for substance abuse treatment, and most of the female offenders grew up in homes with someone who had an alcohol or drug problem.

The next step in Oklahoma’s prison reform efforts will be investigating the state’s sentencing policies, said John Estus, House Speaker Kris Steele’s spokesman.

The current legislature session ends this month, and during the months the Legislature isn’t in session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, corrections officials and policy experts from Oklahoma and other states will study the state’s sentencing policies.

Estus said this group will compile evidence-based conclusions on how Oklahoma should alter its sentencing policies.

“When you look at the problems we have with overcrowding in Oklahoma in our prisons, a lot of times you will find people serving sentences that don’t necessarily fit the crime,” Estus said.

There was a similar effort in 1997. A bipartisan group completed work on a 599-page overhaul that suggested a detailed matrix or grid establishing punishment based on the severity of the offense and the record of the offender; reducing a number of crimes to misdemeanors carrying county jail time; and requiring certain criminals to serve 85 percent of the sentence assessed.

Estus said Steele and the backers of HB 2131 hope to continue the momentum experienced during this legislative session.