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Making recent justice reforms retroactive is smart policy – and a moral necessity

by | October 10th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (2)

Voters passed State Questions 780 and 781 last year in response to Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. These measures reclassified simple drug possession and several low-level property crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies and directed the savings toward treatment and rehabilitation services. The changes have already significantly cut felony filings across the state, though people charged with those crimes under previous law continue to enter prisons at a similar rate.

While these reforms will promote a much more rehabilitation-focused justice system going forward, thousands of Oklahomans are serving felony sentences for crimes that are now prosecuted as misdemeanors. This presents both moral and practical questions: Is it just to imprison those who would not be eligible for prison sentences now?

Oklahoma should make the effects of SQ 780 and other recent justice reforms retroactive; it’s better for Oklahoma families, better for traditionally underserved communities, and it’s better for basic fairness in our overburdened criminal justice system.

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The cost of maintaining the world’s highest incarceration (Capitol Update)

by | September 10th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (2)

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.

When it comes to mass incarceration, Oklahoma is No. 1 (in the world!) But what are the numbers behind this, by now, well known fact? And what effect does it have on Oklahoma’s state budget? Take a look:

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The official SQ 780 savings calculation rests on flawed assumptions

by | September 6th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Criminal Justice | Comments (1)

[duggar11 / Flickr]

Two years ago, Oklahoma voters passed State Questions 780 and 781, together known as the Smart Justice Reform Act. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and many low-level property crimes as misdemeanors rather than felonies. SQ 781 directs the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to calculate the savings to the state as a result of the changes made by SQ 780 and to distribute that amount to counties to provide mental health, substance abuse, and other rehabilitative services.

As required, OMES released the savings calculation for Fiscal Year 2018 on July 31. To the surprise of many, they estimated that the changes made by SQ 780 would save the state $63.5 million in FY 2018 and a total of $137.8 million from FY 2018 to FY 2026. Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh strongly criticized the report, saying that the Department of Corrections had not saved any money over the last year. Why is there such a divergence between the two agencies? Our analysis shows that the assumptions that OMES made are not supported by data, and they lead to an unrealistic picture of what SQ 780 accomplished in its first year.

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The future of medical marijuana in Oklahoma

by | August 30th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (4)

More than half a million Oklahomans voted in favor of State Question 788 legalizing medical marijuana, making Oklahoma the 30th state in the nation to legalize the drug in some form. SQ 788 directed the Department of Health to issue rules governing the implementation of the law, and after a flurry of controversy and a do-over forced by Attorney General Mike Hunter, Governor Fallin signed new emergency rules on July 31.

The regulation process, however, is still incomplete. While the emergency rules implement the language of SQ 788, there are several areas, including laboratory testing of marijuana products, changes to law enforcement practices, and patient licensing procedures that remain unsettled because SQ 788 did not explicitly authorize the Health Department to create rules. To fill in those gaps, Governor Fallin directed a bipartisan group of legislators known as the Medical Marijuana Working Group to gather information on gaps in the law and form proposals to consider during the 2019 legislative session.

Based on the early comments of the Medical Marijuana Working Group, legislators favor a more “hands-off” approach to medical marijuana rules. The working group is trying to balance the concerns of law enforcement and public health officials with what advocates have called one of the least restrictive and most “patient-centered” medical marijuana ballot measures in the nation, and the next legislature will consider proposals to change and fill in regulations in 2019.

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OKPolicyCast 35: A frank conversation about criminal justice (with D’Marria Monday, Jill Webb, Erik Grayless, and Kris Steele)

by | August 7th, 2018 | Posted in Criminal Justice, Podcast | Comments (0)

The OKPolicyCast is hosted by Gene Perry with production help from Jessica Vazquez. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre. If you have any questions for the OKPolicyCast, topics you’d like us to cover, or people you want us to interview, you can reach us at policycast@okpolicy.org.

Last week, Oklahoma Policy Institute hosted our annual Summer Policy Institute for about 60 college students from all over Oklahoma. The 4-day event featured speakers and panels on a wide range of topics. For this episode of the OKPolicyCast, we’re sharing the live recording of one of those panels — an interesting, frank, contentious discussion of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.

If after listening to this you’d like to hear more from panelist Jill Webb, check out Episode 25 of the OKPolicyCast, which features an interview with her.

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

Plea deals have unbalanced Oklahoma’s justice system

by | July 11th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (5)

Anna Rouw is an OK Policy summer intern. She recently graduated from the University of Tulsa.

One of the most basic rights for Americans accused of a crime is the right to a fair trial before a jury. However, the vast majority of criminal convictions – 90 to 95 percent – don’t happen at trial. Instead, they’re the result of a guilty plea, a deal negotiated by prosecutors and defense attorneys absent a trial. Plea deals allow defendants to avoid the uncertainty of a months-long trial, and in exchange for a guilty plea, prosecutors generally agree to reduced charges or more lenient sentences. Plea deals are the norm for a number of reasons, but the justice system’s dependence on them is a serious problem. When nearly all criminal cases are resolved outside of the courtroom, the dangers include racially biased sentences, convicting innocent defendants, and a criminal justice system with little transparency or accountability.

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Episode 32: Danielle Allen, from South Central Los Angeles to the Declaration of Independence

by | June 26th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice, Podcast | Comments (0)

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesGoogle PlayStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre. If you have any questions for the OK PolicyCast, topics you’d like us to cover, or people you want us to interview, you can reach us at policycast@okpolicy.org.

We’ve got something really special for you today. We’re sharing the recording of an event that Oklahoma Policy Institute co-hosted with Danielle Allen, a Harvard University professor and the author of the new book, “Cuz”. In the book, Allen tells the story of her attempt to rescue her cousin, who was arrested at 15 for an attempted carjacking, was tried as an adult and sentenced to thirteen years. He served eleven years in prison, and three years after coming out of prison, he was dead.

In this conversation between Danielle Allen and Tulsa civil rights attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, they dig deep into how the inequalities of America — racial inequality, social inequality, economic inequality — play out not just in statistics and political debates, but in the personal dynamics of real individuals and families — as Danielle Allen puts it, in the “rending of kith and kin.” It was a powerful, impactful conversation, ranging all the way from South Central Los Angeles to the Declaration of Independence. It’s worth your time to give a listen.

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A connection between the nation’s highest incarceration and refusal to expand Medicaid? (Capitol Update)

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.

The latest state-by-state comparison for incarceration rates drew headlines in Oklahoma because we are now number one in incarceration. Rounding out the top ten after Oklahoma are Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, Kentucky and Missouri. A quick view at the list suggested the question of whether there is a correlation between incarceration rates and Medicaid expansion, so I decided to look.

I found that six of the ten highest incarcerating states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage: Oklahoma, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Missouri. Louisiana adopted a “demonstration” version of expansion like the Arkansas plan, effective July 1, 2016. Since then it has dropped from Number one to Number two. Arkansas, on March 4, 2014 adopted its private option version of Medicaid expansion. Arizona adopted a private option version of Medicaid expansion but 42 percent of the state’s 773,000 uninsured are eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid due to certain barriers; Kentucky had one of the more successful transitions to Medicaid expansion although it recently changed to a private option plan.

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Accepting our highest-in-the-world incarceration rate means believing that Oklahomans are the worst people

by | June 19th, 2018 | Posted in Criminal Justice | Comments (6)

We knew the day would come when Oklahoma surpassed Louisiana as the highest-incarcerating state in the highest-incarcerating country in the world. After Louisiana’s legislature passed a sweeping criminal justice reform package in 2017, Oklahoma Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said that he “expect[s] Oklahoma’s incarceration rate to eventually be the country’s highest.”

As it turns out, Oklahoma has had the highest incarceration rate in the world since the end of 2016; we just didn’t know it because federal statistics are released on a year-long lag. This bitter milestone should be an occasion to reflect on what this says about our state and our current justice reform debates. We must begin to ask opponents of reform why Oklahoma deserves to maintain the highest incarceration rate in the world, and what that says about their view of our fellow citizens.

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Oklahoma’s battle to reduce incarceration and increase justice will continue (Capitol Update)

by | June 11th, 2018 | Posted in Capitol Updates, Criminal Justice | Comments (3)

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.

At the end of last session, one had to wonder if, having passed several criminal justice reform measures, Oklahomans and their leaders would figuratively congratulate themselves, call it done, and move on to other things. It looks like that’s not going to happen. I recently attended a planning session of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform in which national and local voices, including political leaders, from both the conservative and liberal perspective are coalescing around working to take Oklahoma off the list as the number one state for incarcerating its citizens.

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