criminal justice

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Twenty-one people were released from state prisons Wednesday after Gov. Mary Fallin commuted their sentences for drug-related crimes.

Fallin reduced the sentences for 20 women and one man to time-served. A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the people were released the same day Fallin signed their commutations.

A criminal justice reform advocacy group helped the people receive rare recommendations for reduced sentences from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board last month. In one recent year, the board made similar recommendations for only 19 of 477 applicants. 

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Jason Hicks stands in the back of his Duncan office behind a desk with a transparent top that frames photos of his wife and three children. 

There are more pictures behind Hicks — photos of people murdered in cases he worked as top prosecutor for Caddo, Grady, Jefferson and Stephens counties. One is a portrait of 14-year-old Alyssa Wiles. She was stabbed to death five years ago, and Hicks helped convict her teenaged ex-boyfriend of the crime.

President Trump is throwing his support behind legislation that could shorten sentences for some drug offenders and help prisoners adjust to life after incarceration.

Details of the measure have not been officially released, but Trump said Wednesday the bill will provide incentives for prisoners to participate in training or rehabilitation programs with a goal of reducing recidivism.

It will also include measures to address sentencing disparities and inequities.

In a key ballot initiative, Florida will restore voting rights to citizens convicted of certain felonies after they have served their sentences, including prison terms, parole and probationary periods, AP has projected.

Voting rights will not be restored to those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.

Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is asking lawmakers for $1.57 billion in funding for next year, a budget request anchored by money for new prison beds and medicine for hepatitis C.

The agency’s supervisory board on Oct. 30 unanimously approved the budget request for lawmakers to consider during the 2019 legislative session.

Oklahoma has the highest rate of women’s incarceration in the nation. The New Yorker reports in one case, a woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison after her boyfriend assaulted her infant daughter. The boyfriend received eight years of probation.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

It’s impossible to predict who will commit a crime in the future, but clinicians at a program funded by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services think it’s possible to make an educated guess at who’s a higher risk. 

The agency is expanding a program officials say helps courts match people with appropriate punishments for their circumstances. Increasing the number of these defendant screenings will connect more Oklahomans with care and assistance, which agency spokesperson Jeff Dismukes said will mean fewer people are sentenced to overcrowded prisons

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Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Every day, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh sits at his desk and tries to make a severely overcrowded, understaffed prison system work.

“I’ve been preoccupied with trying to figure out where we’re going to put all these people because we’re way over capacity,” Allbaugh said.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Frank Taylor moved to Taft, Oklahoma from California six years ago, his friends asked how he could live in a town of about 300 people right next to two prisons. He laughed it off. 

“I got two big pit bulls,” Taylor said. 

Taylor says the small Oklahoma town is a place where he thought he could leave his doors unlocked. His home, near the center of town, is less than a mile from one of the prisons, Jess Dunn Correctional Center.

The minimum-security men’s prison has a problem.