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Oklahoma House Passes Bills to Control Prison Population

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Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange
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El Reno Federal Correctional Institution

Four bills that are part of Gov. Mary Fallin's efforts to slow the growth of Oklahoma's prison population have passed the state House and now head to the state Senate.

“These measures address Oklahoma’s prison population, which is among the highest in the nation, without jeopardizing public safety,” says Fallin. “With our state prisons filled to well over capacity, it is vital that we make some changes to our criminal justice system.”

The House of Representatives passed the bills Monday that would allow district attorneys to file misdemeanor charges instead of felonies for certain crimes; reduce mandatory sentences for drug offenses; raise the felony threshold to $1,000 for property crimes; and expand the number of offenders eligible for drug courts.

  • House Bill 2472 would give district attorneys discretion to file any crime as a misdemeanor, except those requiring a sentence of 85 percent or more upon conviction, after considering the nature of the offense, the age, background and criminal history of the defendant, the character and rehabilitative needs of the defendant and the best interests of justice.
     
  • House Bill 2479 would adjust mandatory minimum and maximum sentences for felony drug possession. Under current law, mandatory minimum and maximum sentences are 2-10 years for a first offense, 4-20 years for a second offense and 4-20 years for a third offense. This bill would adjust those sentences to 0-5 years for a first offense, 0-10 years for a second offense and 4-15 years for a third offense.
     
  • House Bill 2751 would increase the threshold from $500 to $1000 to be charged with a felony property crime.
     
  • House Bill 2753 would expand eligibility for drug courts and community sentencing to more defendants. Under current law, a defendant must have a previous felony conviction to be eligible for those alternative sentencing programs.

Republican Rep. Pam Peterson authored all four bills and said they have the support of prosecutors, including the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association.

"Our prisons are currently at more than 123 percent capacity, and they are getting more crowded every day because of sentencing laws that either prohibit prosecutors and judges from using discretion or exclude many defendants from alternative sentencing programs that would be more beneficial – both for the defendants and for society – than simply sending them to prison.”

Republican Rep. Scott Biggs suggested that lowering mandatory sentences would make the measure a "soft-on-crime bill."

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