An early look at recommendations from the governor’s MODERN criminal justice task force (Capitol Update)

Gov. Stitt’s MODERN (Modernizing Operations through Data and Evidence-based Restoration Now) Task Force, which was created by executive order on July 11, 2023, released its report on Feb 2. The recommendations presumably serve as a guide for criminal justice reforms the governor and the 11-member task force would propose or support in the upcoming legislative session and beyond. 

The prelude to the recommendations notes, however, that while the recommendations received the unanimous approval of all task force members, many of the recommendations are merely conceptual, and continued task force support is dependent upon and subject to additional review of any proposed legislation, administrative rules, or policy changes that may be considered. The recommendations in no way endorse any specific proposals not fully vetted and approved by the task force.

Despite this rather expansive caveat and the conceptual nature of the recommendations, the report identifies improvements needed in our criminal legal system and could be helpful in giving direction to future reform efforts. In broad outline the task force recommended:

  1. Increasing opportunities for individuals with behavioral health issues to receive treatment and be diverted from the criminal justice system when appropriate,
  2. Expanding alternatives to arrest and incarceration in jail to preserve public safety and reserve jail beds for the most serious public safety risks,
  3. Creating more fair and efficient pretrial release processes that rely on evidence-based practices to safely reduce unnecessary pretrial incarceration,
  4. Streamlining adjudicatory processes to address increasing lengths of (pretrial) stay,
  5. Improving release processes and prioritizing jail beds for those who pose the greatest risk of flight or to the public,
  6. Investing in and improving victim services to better serve victims and survivors of crime,
  7. Prioritizing the investment of funds to address hiring and retention challenges to ensure services across the jail systems can be provided appropriately, and
  8. Ensuring oversight and accountability by utilizing technology to standardize the collection and reporting of local criminal justice data and facilitate better justice outcomes.

None of this is new. As much as anything, it demonstrates the governor’s continued support, at least in broad concept, for criminal justice reform. But the proof is in the pudding when specific proposals that, because of the importance of the issues will likely be controversial, are on the table in terms of specific legislation. The question is whether the political will to make change will be there.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.