Kris Steele

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Multiple polls show the majority of Oklahoma voters support criminal justice reforms.

Survey data commissioned by Oklahoma Public Radio stations for the Oklahoma Engaged project also suggest a majority of voters believe the state’s sentencing laws need to be reworked.

QUINTON CHANDLER/STATEIMPACT OKLAHOMA

Gov. Mary Fallin signed seven criminal justice reform bills this week ending a bumpy ride for legislation designed to curb prison population growth in Oklahoma.

Fallin says the measures represent smart ways to protect public safety, keep families together — and save taxpayer money.

Most of the legislation was introduced in 2017 but stalled in committee. This year, the bills were reconsidered after compromises between legislators, district attorneys and other government agencies.

Michael Cross / KOSU

Criminal justice reform supporters rally at the Capitol in a final push for bills to reduce prison populations.

The group Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform says about ten bills from the Governor's Justice Reform Initiative are still alive in conference committee and could pass before the end of session on May 26th.

Former House Speaker Kris Steele says fixing the broken justice system is absolutely a budget issue.

The Oklahoma state House of Representatives furthered a bill Thursday that would roll back part of a state question that was approved by voters in November.

Oklahomans voted in favor of State Questions 780 and 781 last year, which reduced simple drug possession from a felony crime to a misdemeanor.

In debate on the House floor, Republican Representative Tim Downing, R-Purcell, said House Bill 1482 would give district attorneys the discretion to enhance simple drug possession to a felony if it occurs within 1,000 feet of a school

okhouse.gov

A bill that would change some of the criminal justice reforms voters approved in November advances in the legislature.

House Bill 1482 would again make it a felony to possess drugs within 1,000 feet of a school.

Rep. Tim Downing (R-Purcell) co-authored the bill and says it restores protection for children.

"A person can take heroin on an elementary school playground and do it an unlimited amount of times and essentially pay a ticket for it."

Thirty-three states have passed criminal justice reform in an attempt to reduce prison populations and save money.

But although voters in Oklahoma approved ballot initiatives enacting reforms in November, some lawmakers have filed bills to repeal the reforms.

Prisons in Oklahoma are at a 109 percent capacity, creating safety issues and budget problems. There's no money for treatment, and things are so dire, many inmates are sleeping in makeshift spaces like the cafeteria.

Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform launched a petition drive Thursday aimed at reducing the prison population and redirecting savings to create treatment and rehabilitation programs. 

Former House Speaker and current chair of the coalition Kris Steele stood with political, faith and business leaders and argued the importance of helping convicted felons.