Oklahoma’s battle to reduce incarceration and increase justice will continue (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.

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.

In addition, a national and local organization filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tulsa last week challenging Tulsa County District Court’s bail bond system calling it a “wealth-based detention scheme.” Whether you stay in jail pending trial depends, in most cases, on whether you have enough money to pay a bondsman. Add to that a front-page story in The Oklahoman citing instances of apparent injustice caused by the lack of retroactivity of the penalty changes passed by vote of the people in SQ 780. One example was a prisoner serving a 10-year prison sentence for what would now be a misdemeanor.

Just these two issues — a fairer and safer bail bond system and retroactivity of “smart on crime” measures that rely on treatment and restorative justice rather than lengthy incarceration — would be a big help in reducing the social and fiscal cost of incarceration in Oklahoma. Lengthy pretrial confinement disrupts jobs and families and makes longer sentences more likely. And the lack of retroactivity for sentencing policy changes is expensive for taxpayers and is manifestly unjust.

But passage of the reform measures last session was a two-year legislative battle after a year-long governor’s study commission. What passed was real progress but was a fraction of what the governor’s commission had recommended, and the measures were modified greatly at that. Their passage will still fail to reverse the growth trend in our prison population. Ironically, a lot of the opposition to reform comes from people administering our current system of justice that produces over-incarceration. It’s going to take the attention and action of citizens insisting on change to make it happen. Many other states — even Texas — have been able to overcome the resistance to change and reap the financial and social benefits of reforming criminal justice. We owe it to ourselves and to the people caught up in the system.

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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.

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

  1. I don’t think it is right for the district attorneys council to have so much political clout at the capital. They are the main reason the criminal justice reform bills were amended (watered down) in the first place. I have been in touch with Senator Wayne Shaw several times about authoring new bills for the upcoming 2019 legislative session that would mirror the original criminal justice reform bills before they were watered down. Senator Shaw informed me that it would be a waste of time because they would never receive the district attorney council’s blessing. If the CJR Bills do not receive the blessing of the district attorney council, they don’t stand a chance of passing. It seems like an unfair, one side process to me. I wish I had the money to run another initiative petition for more criminal justice reform measures.

  2. I Think that the Nonviolent Offenders which is still incarcerated ..Who has less then 18 months should get early releasement .. I have a Son who been in now for almost 5 yrs. He has dui and child support charges which was added to his charges , He has all his programs even a got GED and he was out at a work release for while ..doing well ,,then the doc found where they made a mistake and put him right back in prison …That is not right he could of been out on parole working paying his restitution by now .. I see a lot of boys being Prisoners in Prison .. Isn’t time to redo the system and give these boys a chance.. There is a big place in enid Ok Use to be the Enid State School that was closed down Beautiful place to house these boys teach then to work and go to classes to better themselves… Prison is not a answer to better them its making them worse. My son can work he has job waiting he needs to work to pay back what he owes The courts setting in prison will not help him..MY Comment IS Please Give these Boys a chance to improve themselves …

  3. Probation revocation should be only those whom receive an additional criminal charge not for missed payments or a missed check in appointment!!

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