A Scorecard for Criminal Justice Reform

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This story will be updated periodically.

About a dozen new and holdover bills that would overhaul Oklahoma’s criminal justice system are in the legislative pipeline.

Although it’s too early to tell, there are indications the bills have momentum. In her State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin again endorsed bills recommended by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reform Task Force and urged, “Send them to me to sign.” House Speaker Charles McCall later assured, “Criminal justice bills will move forward.”

Advocates for changes in the  system are cautiously optimistic but recall what happened in the 2017 session, when eight of a dozen key criminal-justice bills got bottled up in committee and were held over for this year. Another bill died; three passed and were signed by Fallin.

Oklahoma Watch put together a scorecard, if you will, with bills that proponents say could lead to a significant drop in rates of incarceration in prisons and jails and greater use of alternative treatment programs.

The bills would enact changes along all stages of the criminal justice system:


At Apprehension

Bypassing Jail
House Bill 3694: Would allow more people to be free on their own recognizance instead of being jailed for non-violent misdemeanors. Intended to address situations such as when a defendant fails to show up for a court date to pay a speeding ticket. Currently, a bench warrant is issued and the person will be arrested.
Status: Referred to Rules Committee on Feb. 6. No votes yet.
Main author: Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Oklahoma City.
Note: Calvey said the bill would mean that if a police officer pulls someone over and learns they have an unpaid traffic ticket, they aren’t automatically arrested. Instead, they would get a citation and a court date. Alternative collection methods could potentially be through fines added onto utility bills. Calvey said it would save time and money.

Bail and Attorneys
Senate Bill 1021: Would allow defendants to get court-appointed attorneys after posting bail. Under the existing system, defendants cannot get a court-appointed attorney if they make bail, which causes many to go without representation because they can’t afford an attorney.
Main author: Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City.
Status: Referred to Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 6. No vote yet.
Note: Oklahoma is one of a handful of states in which the ability to post bail disqualifies an inmate from receiving a court-appointed attorney.


At Sentencing

General Sentencing
SB 689: Would give judges and prosecutors more discretion and options for sending people to treatment and supervision programs instead of prison. Fines and fees for some offenders would be reduced.
Main author: Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Status: In 2017, it passed the Senate, 41-0, and the House with amendments, 65-18. Sent to conference committee, where it is now.

Property Crime Sentences
HB 2281: Reduces penalties for 21 property crimes, including larceny and forgery, that involve $1,000 or less. The sentence could be up to one year in jail.
Status: In 2017, it passed the House, 84-8, and the Senate with amendments, 37-5. Sent to conference committee after House rejected amendments.
Main author: Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.
Status: Passed the House, 67-17, this session. Now goes to Senate.

Drug Possession Sentences
SB 969: Under the bill, State Question 780, which makes simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of felony, would become retroactive. It would allow people already convicted of felony drug possession to seek a sentence reduction in court. A judge would take into account factors such as time served and good behavior.
Main author: Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah.
Status: Sent to Judiciary Committee. No vote yet.
Note: Thompson said it would affect about 855 inmates and yield cost savings of $9.8 million a year. “They’re non-violent offenders,” he said. “Let’s take a hard look at it.”

Drug Trafficking Sentences
HB 2293:  Would reduce sentences and remove life sentences for drug trafficking offenses. Would also allow prison sentences for separate drug offenses to run concurrently.
Main author: Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.
Status: Introduced in 2017 and didn’t get a vote. Referred to Judiciary Committee. No vote yet.

Repeat Offenders Sentences
SB 649: Would reduce the amount of extra prison time that nonviolent offenders would get for being repeat offenders.
Main author: Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Status: Passed the Senate, 44-0, and the House, 54-36, with amendments and went to conference committee, where it is now.

Burglary Sentences
SB 786: Would reduce the minimum sentence for second-degree burglary and create a third-degree charge for burglary of an automobile.
Main author: Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove.
Status: Passed the Senate, 26-19, and the House with amendments 64-20. Went to conference committee, where it is now.

Forgery Sentences
SB 789: Would put a tiered sentencing system in place for forgery-related crimes, including making cases involving property worth less than $1,000 a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
Main author: Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Status: No votes yet; now in the Public Safety Committee.


In Prison

Parole Eligibility
HB 2286: Would set up an administrative parole process and enact other changes to make parole more widely available. For crimes committed after Nov. 1, it would make offenders eligible for parole after serving one-fourth of their sentence. The current minimum requirement is one-third of a sentence.
Main author: Rep. Terry O’Donnell, R-Catoosa.
Status: In 2017, it passed the House, 81-3, and the Senate with amendments, 42-1. Now in conference committee; no votes yet.


After Release

SB 650: Would reduce the waiting time for nonviolent offenders to get their records expunged, from 15 years to seven years.
Main author: Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove.
Status: In 2017, it passed the Senate, 45-0, and the House with amendments, 71-17. Now in conference committee; no votes yet.


At Every Stage

Expunging a Record
SB 793: Would create the Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force to track and measure the outcomes of criminal justice system changes. The 17-member group would be made up of various representatives, including prosecutors, advocates and law enforcement officials.
Main author: Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
Status: In 2017, it passed the Senate, 45-0, and the House with amendments, 71-23. Sent to conference committee, where it is now.

Reach reporter Ben Botkin at bbotkin@oklahomawatch.org or (702) 418-6089.