In recent years, several conservative states have been at the forefront in tackling justice reform. As documented in the report Federalism in Action: How Conservative States Got Smart on Crime, states like Texas and Georgia have been able to cut back on total prison expenditures while also reducing rates of incarceration and recidivism. Now, Oklahoma is looking to emulate these great success stories, as a series of justice reform bills recently passed through the House and Senate. All that is left is the signature of Governor Mary Fallin, and Oklahoma will become the next state to implement a “smart-on-crime” approach to criminal justice.
These bills would implement a series of valuable reforms that would properly address non-violent sentences, such as drug possession. HB 2472 would give district attorneys more leeway when pursuing criminal offenses, letting them classify cases of drug possession as misdemeanors rather than felonies. Thus, instead of being immediately sent to prison with the felony charge, people charged with misdemeanors can seek alternate forms of treatment, such as drug rehabilitation. HB 2479 would reform the state’s three strike felony system, dramatically lowering the mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related felonies.
HB 2751 makes comparable changes to the criminal code regarding theft, offering the chance for certain instances to be charged as misdemeanors. Finally, HB 2753 would create a system of drug courts, similar to those created in Texas and Georgia, who could send low-level, non-violent offenders to receive drug-treatment care rather than incarceration. All of these bills easily passed through the House, and, with the Senate’s vote in affirmation, will soon be signed into law by Governor Fallin.
Historically, Governor Fallin has been extremely supportive of the justice reform agenda. In 2015, she signed the Justice Safety Valve Act into law, which created a “safety valve” exception to the state’s mandatory minimum sentences with cases of non-violent offenders. In her most recent State of the State address, Fallin called for reforms to the state’s sentencing structures, with many of her proposals making their way onto the above bills. Considering that she had been the most vocal advocate of the reform measures, Fallin will almost definitely sign the bills into law.
Many conservative states have been experimenting with criminal justice reform, only to find massive success in reducing crime rates and cutting back costs on prison expenditures. With the series of bills passing through the legislature, Oklahoma will likely be the next state to join the trend and make positive steps towards a “smart-on-crime” justice system.