Welcome to the beginning of the offseason.
Oklahoma’s four-month regular legislative session adjourned sine die on Friday. Lawmakers will return to the Capitol on June 13 to consider budget proposals from Gov. Kevin Stitt and periodically throughout the summer to allocate American Rescue Plan Act funds.
In the realm of criminal justice, we now have a clear picture of where reform efforts stand.
A handful of bills aimed at easing the re-entry process for people with criminal convictions cleared the Legislature with bipartisan support. Perhaps the most notable of these is House Bill 3316, which authorizes the state to automatically expunge certain criminal offenses. In March I examined the potential benefits and hurdles of Oklahoma using technology to clear criminal records.
Here’s a look at some notable criminal justice bills that cleared the legislature and were approved by the governor:
- House Bill 3205: Authorizes juvenile judges to waive or reduce court fees.
- House Bill 3316: Authorizes the state to automatically expunge certain criminal records.
- Senate Bill 1691: Provides that a criminal conviction should be grounds for licensure denial only if it directly relates to the duties and responsibilities of the occupation.
- Senate Bill 1548: Modifies requirements for drug court program participation to include misdemeanor offenders.
And here are some justice bills that passed the House or Senate but ultimately stalled:
- Senate Bill 1532: Waives all outstanding fines, court costs, and fees in a criminal case for any person who has made installment payments on a timely basis for 48 months in the previous 60 months.
- Senate Bill 1458: Eliminates court fines paid to six state agencies, including the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Administrative Office of the Courts. It also proposed stopping district attorneys from charging a $40 a month probation fee. Individuals on probation would be required to pay at most $20 a month to support the costs of their supervision. (This bill was gutted and re-written during the budget drafting process)
- House Bill 3294: Requires the state to utilize the funding formula and allocate funds to county justice systems each fiscal year. It cleared the House without objection late last month and is eligible to be heard in the Senate.
- Senate Bill 1646: Creates a felony classification system with reduced sentencing ranges for some nonviolent offenses.
- Senate Joint Resolution 43: Abolishes the Judicial Nominating Commission and gives the governor more authority to appoint their preferred judicial candidate when a vacancy opens in the state Supreme Court or Court of Criminal Appeals.
- Senate Bill 1612: Consolidates several law enforcement agencies under the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.
I’ll be keeping an eye on interim study requests in the coming months. These study sessions, generally held from late August through November, typically don’t produce official reports or recommendations but can guide future legislation.
Last Friday state lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto on a bill allocating $7.8 billion to Oklahoma’s two private prisons.
The funds are presumably needed to match recently implemented pay raises within the state Department of Corrections. But as Tres Savage of NonDoc notes, there’s no language in the bill that specifics the funds must be used to increase prison worker pay.
What I’m Reading This Week:
FBI Director Warns of Post-McGirt Risks, Asks Senators for More Oklahoma Funding: The FBI’s Oklahoma City field office is managing thousands of criminal cases in Indian Country, a stark increase from two years ago, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a U.S. Senate committee last week. [The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma Lawmakers Weigh in on Gun Control Amid Texas Tragedy: Democratic lawmakers are calling for the Oklahoma legislature to strengthen gun laws and limit access to some firearms. Republicans contend that better firearms education and mental health access would thwart mass shootings. [KFOR]
Agency: 1 dead, 7 Injured in Oklahoma Festival Shooting: Those shot at a Memorial Day event in Taft on Saturday night ranged in age from 9 to 56, according to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The 26-year-old suspect surrendered to police on Sunday afternoon. [The Associated Press]
How the Newest Federal Prison Became One of the Deadliest: Dozens of men said they lived under the pressing threat of violence from cellmates as well as brutality at the hands of staff. Specifically, many men reported being shackled in cuffs so tight they left scars, or being “four-pointed” and chained by each limb to a bed for hours, in violation of bureau policy and federal regulations. [The Marshall Project]
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From the impact of COVID-19 behind bars to the effects of prison gerrymandering, my reporting focuses on how Oklahoma’s criminal justice system impacts people inside and outside of the system. It can take weeks or months for me to file public records requests, dig into documents and track down sources. As a nonprofit news organization, we rely on your financial support to do this time-consuming but important work. Help us make a difference.