State Question 780 is perhaps the most significant criminal justice reform measure in Oklahoma’s history.
Enacted by voters in 2016, the ballot initiative reclassified several drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Lawmakers made the measure retroactive in 2019, prompting the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history.
Oklahoma’s prison population has dropped 25% since State Question 780 took effect in July 2017. The state Department of Corrections, once in desperate need of bed space, announced it would close a minimum-security men’s prison in Fort Supply last summer due to reduced admissions.
A related ballot initiative, State Question 781, proposed allocating funds saved from incarcerating fewer people to county-level mental health and substance abuse programs. It passed with 55% of the vote and triggered the creation of a County Community Safety Investment Fund.
The legislature has never sent any money to the fund, citing difficulties coming up with a funding formula.
Lawmakers say they’ve followed the people’s will by increasing appropriations to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. But justice reform advocates argue the state must commit long term to make mental health and substance abuse treatment accessible to all.
Last year the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, working with the Department of Corrections and left-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute, nailed down a funding formula that calculated the state’s savings in Fiscal Year 2020 at $10.6 million.
House Bill 3294, sponsored by Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, and Sen. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, would require the state to utilize the funding formula and allocate funds to county justice systems annually. It cleared the House without objection in late March and is eligible to be heard in the Senate.
In an interview with the Stillwater News-Press last week, Humphrey said he plans to amend the bill to specify how the funds should be spent and how they should be distributed.
The money could be particularly beneficial to rural jail administrators, who often struggle to finance repairs and hire qualified mental health professionals.
Have thoughts or questions about the proposal? Send me a DM on Twitter or email me at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.
A 1,000-page proposal to overhaul Oklahoma’s criminal code and establish a felony classification system is progressing in the Legislature. Advocates say it could help reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders. Some House Republicans believe justice reform efforts have gone too far. Continue reading…
A package of bills moving through the Legislature could block all but the most well-funded groups from getting a question on the ballot through Oklahoma’s initiative and referendum process. Continue reading…
During an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt claimed that death row prisoners were using home DNA tests to detect Native American ancestry and have their sentences vacated under the McGirt ruling.
Local reporters fact-checked Stitt’s assertion and found it to be false.
What I’m Reading This Week
- Anti-Death Penalty Advocate Weds Man on Oklahoma Death Row: Lea Rodger, a 32-year-old paralegal from Florida, is keenly aware Richard Glossip could soon be executed. She married him anyway. [The Associated Press]
- Commissioners Declare Bond Election to Fund New OK County Jail Facility: Oklahoma County voters will consider a $260 million bond to fund a new county detention facility. The special election is set for June 28. [Oklahoma City Free Press]
- Oklahoma Prison Escapee Captured: Frank Logan escaped from the Oklahoma State Reformatory on the evening of March 27. He was recaptured less than in Altus approximately 36 hours later after witnesses say he approached them and asked to use a cell phone. [KOCO]
- ‘God’s Sense of Humor’, OKC Pastor Appointed to Jail Committee Same Day as Court Hearing: On Nov. 17, Ebenezer Baptist Church pastor Derrick Scobey was arrested for obstructing a roadway during a protest held the night before Julius Jones’ execution. He’s fighting those charges as he takes on a leadership position with the Oklahoma County Jail Trust’s Citizens Advisory Board. [KFOR]
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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.