Interim studies examine justice reform solutions (Capitol Update)

Rep. J.J. Humphrey, R-Lane, is at it again with his criminal justice reform interim studies. He reviewed his recent studies in a press release last week describing the studies he’s completed in the past few weeks. One study included looking at data collection and funding since passage of State Question 780 and SQ 781 in 2016. SQ 780 changed simple drug possession and low-level property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and SQ 781 allocated the resulting corrections savings to local substance abuse and mental health services. 

SQ 781 provided the savings were to be calculated annually by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and appropriated by the legislature to counties to be used for local mental health and substance abuse programs. However, that has not happened in the intervening six years. According to Rep. Humphrey, “If we keep sending money to prisons, they will find a way to use everything we send them. But if we want true reform, we need to start sending money to the programs that help address the root of the problem.”

Another study by Rep. Humphrey looked at state’s probation and supervision programs. Humphrey’s idea is to combine District Attorney supervision, Department of Corrections supervision, and community corrections into a single system organized by judicial district that would provide better, more efficient supervision. Currently, DA supervision in most districts doesn’t provide much supervision and exists primarily to fund DA offices. Community corrections programs are sporadic and underutilized around the state, and Department of Corrections probation and parole services are underfunded.

Finally, Rep. Humphrey sponsored a study on qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects a government official, including law enforcement officers, from lawsuits alleging they violated an individual’s rights by allowing lawsuits only where officials violate a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right. Rep. Humphrey’s goal is to provide officers more protection from lawsuits, but that’s going to be difficult since qualified immunity is a complex judicially-created concept established by federal courts. 

Rep. Humphrey says his overall intent is “to completely change the criminal justice system so we are better addressing repeat offenders and holding true criminals accountable for their actions.” He says, “We must stop treating everyone like a criminal. Some people are dealing with substance abuse and addiction issues. Some people are dealing with mental illness or a trauma in their lives. We need to get these people the appropriate help, which turns out is much more cost-effective than throwing them in prison.” 

Rep. Humphrey worked for the Department of Corrections for 20 years before he retired and was owner/operator of a private supervision company that contracted to supervise drug court defendants and other types of supervision. That background gives him a depth of experience dealing with people caught up in the criminal justice system.



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.

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