criminal justice reform

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said in a statement last week there are some flaws in an analysis that claims eliminating sentence enhancements for nonviolent crimes would reduce the prison population and save the state up to $186 million in 10 years.

Sentence enhancements are a tool that allows courts to increase the maximum range of punishment for defendants who have prior convictions.

Criminal justice reform activists believe a potential ballot question that calls for an end to rules that extend prison sentences for repeat offenders could reduce the state prison population by more than eight percent over time.

New analysis completed by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank, suggests the changes in State Question 805 would save the state up to $186 million over 10 years.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is ordering the Secretary of State’s office to accept and count signatures demanding a felony sentencing reform question be added to the ballot this year.

The Secretary of State’s office said it wouldn’t accept more than 260,000 signatures supporting the ballot initiative because the work would put the office at risk of spreading coronavirus.

State Supreme Court justices decided the office hadn’t proven it couldn’t count the signatures safely.

Wesley Fryer / Flickr

As the state Pardon and Parole Board prepares to consider 14 releases on Wednesday, reform advocates are petitioning the state of Oklahoma to reduce the prison population and release prisoners who are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

At the end of a workday, Cheryl Porter pulls into the gravel drive of her one-bedroom travel trailer in Brandon, Mississippi.

"I actually want to get rid of this one and get a bigger one," Porter says. "I want a two bedroom 'cause when Michael gets home, Lord willing."

Michael, her 29-year-old son, has been incarcerated since he was a teenager on several felony charges, including burglary. He's due for release in 2022.

"If he gets to come home alive," she says.

This Week in Oklahoma Politics, KOSU's Michael Cross talks with Republican Political Consultant Neva Hill and ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel about a revenue shortfall expected soon from the State of Oklahoma for the remainder of the current fiscal year, unofficial numbers show about 45,000 unemployment claims last week and Governor Stitt's emergency declaration over COVID-19 might have unintentionally killed signature gathering on initiative petitions set for the November ballot.

 

Criminal justice reform advocates are calling for the release of people from county jails and state prisons as the coronavirus spreads.

Their long list of requests includes wanting elderly prisoners, prisoners with immune deficiencies and people on the verge of release out of state prisons. They’re also calling for the Pardon and Parole Board to expedite releases for people who might already be eligible for shortened sentences.

Kris Steele, leader of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform says incarcerated people are at high risk of spreading the virus.

Women in prison, when compared with incarcerated men, often receive disproportionately harsh punishments for minor violations of prison rules, according to a report released Wednesday by a federal fact-finding agency.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

A popular desire for reform led lawmakers to push the release of hundreds of people from Oklahoma prisons in a record commutation last year. The climactic event was born from a series of reforms that have moved Oklahoma away from the number one spot for incarceration. But, that progress might be temporary.

Shane Brown

Allison Herrera’s reporting was made possible by the Pulitzer Foundation’s Crisis Reporting Fund.

The law known as “enabling child abuse” has been criticized for its unfair sentencing, particularly regarding women. Advocates for criminal justice reform and women’s rights in the state of Oklahoma say that women bear the brunt of the punishment while men walk away with lesser sentences.

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