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Missed opportunities for criminal justice reform this session (Capitol Updates)

by | March 9th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Legislators missed an opportunity with three bills that are now dormant for this session to make significant reforms in the criminal justice system. The bills were SB 364 and SB 369 by Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, and HB 1730 by Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa. The bills were casualties of the legislative deadline requiring bills to be passed out of the committee to which they were assigned in their house of origin by last Thursday. None of the three bills received a hearing in committee.

SB 364 and HB 1730 mirrored each other and would have reformed the bail bond system for pretrial detention. Many Oklahoma courts operate on a schedule-based bail system. A monetary bond is set based on the accused’s alleged offense with little or no consideration given to the accused’s personal circumstances. Thus, bond has the opposite effect than that for which it was intended. People who have no money stay in jail even though they are at little risk of failing to appear for court or being a danger to someone or the community. People who should remain in jail are released because they have the money to get out, free to abscond or hurt someone.

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OK PolicyCast 25: How the criminal justice system really works

by | February 28th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice, Podcast | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

On this episode we speak with Jill Webb, an attorney with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s office. She gives us a tour of how the real criminal justice system is different from popular ideas about police and the courts, embodied by shows like Law and Order.

You can subscribe at the links above, download the podcast here, or play it in your browser:

Justice Reform Task Force recommendations could be the solution Oklahoma desperately needs

by | February 22nd, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

Photo used under a Creative Commons license.

Just before the start of the legislative session, the Justice Reform Task Force released a report that details the crisis in our state’s corrections system and recommends policy changes to deal with the crisis in a safe and effective manner. If passed and implemented, their proposals could be the solution that Oklahoma’s criminal justice system desperately needs to support the rehabilitation of people convicted of crimes and relieve a prison system that’s bursting at the seams. Positive reforms made it through the Legislature and through the ballot box last year, and the Task Force recommendations show us how to build on that success.

In previewing the Task Force, we pointed at the budgetary constraints facing the committee and speculated that they might look at reforms that were passed in 2012 but implemented poorly; modify or eliminate sentencing enhancements; expand geriatric and medical parole; and establish incentives for agencies to divert offenders away from prison. Their 27 recommendations, many of which are legislative proposals for 2017, incorporate some of these ideas but go much further, addressing the front door, the back door, and the trap door of incarceration.

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Lawmakers must confront racial disparities head-on as they reform the justice system

by | February 15th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

The need for criminal justice reform is well illustrated by outrageous top-level statistics showing Oklahoma’s imprisonment rate among the highest in the nation (about 700 in prison per 100,000 residents), and a need to bring down spending on corrections (nearly half a billion dollars in FY 2016 and yet vastly insufficient to safely operate our prisons). While those numbers are staggering, they hide deep racial disparities. Mass incarceration is bad for the state as a whole, but the damage it is doing to minority communities is even worse.

As lawmakers take another run at criminal justice reform this year, they should heed the examples of other states and include reducing racial disparities as a core goal. If they don’t, they risk making the problem worse.

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‘Shame on us’ if we don’t address over-incarceration this year (Capitol Update)

by | February 10th, 2017 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (3)

OK Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh appeared before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary last week and presented his request for an additional $1.165 billion appropriation for next fiscal year. The request is, of course, totally unrealistic, and Allbaugh knows it. But he’s trying to make the point that we are incarcerating too many people in Oklahoma, and we’re not treating those who are incarcerated right. In addition, we are wasting taxpayer money.

Also, last week Governor Fallin’s Criminal Justice Task Force released its final report. It was a real eye-opener! The report says that the Task Force “analyzed the state’s sentencing, corrections, and community supervision data and reviewed the latest research on reducing recidivism and improving public safety. The Task Force found that:

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New OK Policy report shows how criminal fines and fees trap Oklahomans in justice system without increasing state revenues

by | February 1st, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

Tens of thousands of Oklahomans enter the justice system each year, and many come out owing thousands of dollars in fines and fees. For poor Oklahomans, this debt can swallow up most of their family’s income and trap them in a cycle of incarceration and poverty. Dozens of state agencies receive funding from these fees, which have been used to plug holes in their budgets as tax revenue dries up. However, because most criminal defendants are already in poverty, only a small fraction of criminal fines and fees are ever collected, and state and local governments in Oklahoma spend far more incarcerating people for nonpayment.

A new report from Oklahoma Policy Institute examines the growth of fines and fees in recent years; how increasing court debt impacts the justice system poor Oklahomans; and the role that fine and fee revenue has come to play in state agencies’ budgets. The report also lays out recommendations for reform.

You can find the executive summary and full report here.

Oklahoma’s prisons are still on a path to disaster

by | January 5th, 2017 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (2)

Even with positive and important criminal justice reforms passing in the Legislature and in the ballot box this year, the Oklahoma prison population is on track to grow by 25 percent – about 7,200 inmates – in the next ten years. Unless we do something to prevent this growth, it will cost nearly $2 billion in new prison construction and operating costs in that time. Governor Fallin’s Justice Reform Task Force, a group of stakeholders tasked with putting forth proposals to curb that growth, is confronting an incarceration problem that’s among the most severe in the nation and quickly getting worse. 

Those projections come from the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) and the Pew Charitable Trusts, which are providing technical assistance to the Task Force as it develops its proposals. Their analysis of data from the Department of Corrections and Administrative Office of the Courts paints a striking picture of a system that is ever more bent toward incarceration, even as state leaders are finally acknowledging the steep human and financial costs of the status quo.

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Sonya’s story as a child of incarcerated parents

sad girl

Sonya (her name has been changed due to the sensitive nature of her story) grew up as a child of incarcerated parents and went on to be Valedictorian of her high school class, student council president, and drum major of the band. She is currently taking time off from college and works full-time at a bank. She spoke to OK Policy intern Chelsea Fiedler about her experience growing up. Chelsea recently shared her own story as the daughter of Oklahoma corrections officers.

Chelsea: Tell me a little bit about yourself. What was your childhood generally like and what is your life like now?

Sonya: For as long as I could remember, I was moving between my father, my mother, my grandparents, my other grandparents, vice versa. I switched elementary schools a few times before part of the custody agreement between my grandparents and DHS was that I would stay in the same public school, and so that solidified when I was in fourth grade. Growing up was a lot of not really knowing when everything was set in stone, but always kind of hoping that I was finally settled…

Chelsea: Were both of your parents incarcerated? And if so, was it at the same time?

Sonya: Both of my parents were incarcerated multiple times. Several of those overlapped in one way or another. Not that they spent the same term in prison, but there was a lot of overlap especially from the ages of three to eleven… Until the death of my mother, at which point it was just a matter of my father being in and out of prison.

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My story as a daughter of Oklahoma corrections officers

by | December 6th, 2016 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

Chelsea Fiedler

Chelsea Fiedler is a senior at Rogers State University, majoring in Political Science. Before interning at OK Policy, Chelsea was a Mission Impact Intern at YWCA Tulsa and served as Student Government Association President at Rogers State University. Chelsea plans to attend law school after graduation. 

I was born and raised in the small town of Vinita, Oklahoma. My father was honorably discharged after eight years in the Army and began working at Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center (NOCC) shortly before my birth. My mother stayed home to take care of my older sister and me until I was ten years old. We didn’t have a lot of money, but it never felt that way. My sister and I were always fed and clothed adequately, and my mother made sure we were getting a good education at both school and home. In 2005, when I was nine years old, my mother started work at NOCC as a correctional officer. She worked her way up the ranks and is now a lieutenant. Before my mom started working at NOCC, there was little talk about the facility at home. Now that both of my parents play crucial roles on the compound, they frequently discuss aspects of their work at home.

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The success of SQ 780 points Oklahoma to a better response to drug addiction (Capitol Updates)

by | November 18th, 2016 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

handcuffs and keySteve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Of the four state questions that passed last Tuesday, the one that will yield the most direct and positive impact on the lives of real people, including many young people, is State Question 780. SQ 780 changes to misdemeanors the penalties for simple possession of controlled substances and low level property crimes. Most misdemeanors are punishable by up to 1 year in the county jail and a fine. All the alternatives such as deferred or suspended sentences, including treatment, restitution and community service, are available with misdemeanor charges.

So many of the challenges we face today have been around for years, and our policymakers in both the executive and legislative branches have just not been able to agree upon and implement solutions. When substance use became popular among many people, we chose to criminalize the behavior as the best way to control it. We’re not the first generation to try prohibition. One problem with prohibition is that it makes the illegal activity extremely profitable as a business for those willing to violate the law. Legislatures, law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, and corrections officials deal with the affront by doubling down on penalties all the way up to life in prison.

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