prison overcrowding

Justice reform groups are hopeful that Gov. Mary Fallin's recent decision to commute the sentence of an inmate serving life without parole for possessing an ounce of cocaine could lead to the re-evaluation of cases for about four-dozen prisoners handed similar terms for nonviolent drug-related crimes.

County sheriffs would be able to set up a work-release program for jail inmates to earn time off their sentences under a bill that has been given final approval in the Legislature.

The House voted 90-0 on Monday for HB3039, dubbed the "Debt to Society Act of 2016," and sent it to the governor.

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Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a number of criminal justice reform bills Wednesday. The legislation is part of recommendations from a steering committee that met in the fall.

The governor signed:

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.

Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

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.”

A longtime Republican political operative who previously headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency now has the daunting task of leading Oklahoma's overcrowded and underfunded prison system, which has come under increasing scrutiny after a series of problematic executions.

A bipartisan task force created by Congress issued "an urgent call to action" Tuesday to overhaul the nation's federal prisons and reduce the number of U.S. inmates by 60,000 over the next decade.

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Wednesday outlined a new approach to reform Oklahoma County’s overcrowded jail and increase public safety. Members of the Criminal Justice Task Force hope to implement an action plan starting as early as next year.

The task force is designed to evaluate the criminal justice system in Oklahoma County with help from the VERA Institute of Justice, an independent think tank based in New York.

It's wonder enough in sharply-divided Washington that nine Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate came together this week to do anything, let alone touch the once politically charged arena of crime and punishment.

But groups as different as the ACLU and Koch Industries had joined this year in a coalition to press for change, and so too did senators as different as Iowa Republican Charles Grassley and Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin.

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