Justice delayed… (Capitol Update)

On Monday of the last week of the legislative session, criminal justice reform bills that had worked their way through committee and earlier floor passage for months were primed for final consideration on the House and Senate floors. Instead, Governor Stitt issued an executive order creating a new task force to “study, evaluate, and make recommendations regarding policies” for criminal justice reform. Effectively, criminal justice reform died for the year.

The only bill to be heard on the floor was the bail reform bill that fell six votes short in the House, victim of session-long lobbying efforts by the bail bond industry and a well-timed late push against the bill by the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association.

One must wonder how such a promising effort in the beginning could finish with little to show for it. In the end, it’s just another one-year delay, not really failure. No one knows what the cost of that delay will be, because it’s incalculable in terms of money and lives. Reform will ultimately happen. The current system is not working, and the people of Oklahoma have shown their understanding of that with their votes. The criminal justice system brings the full power of the state to bear on individual lives, both victims and offenders. It’s important to get it right.

The changes offered last session were big changes, and big changes are needed. Being the number one incarcerator in the world is not making Oklahomans safer. Perhaps, it’s not surprising that it’s going to take another year to get the job done. Next year’s legislature will have that opportunity. Hopefully, the governor’s task force will play a major role. Ultimately legislators will overcome the intransigence of some in the current system whose resistance has made this so difficult.


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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