The ACLU of Oklahoma called today upon the Oklahoma Legislature to immediately reject SB 1221 as amended. Originally the bill was written to require training for members of the Pardon and Parole Board, however at the request of the District Attorney’s Council it was amended at the last minute to create a problematic process whereby children can be sentenced to life without parole.
The following statement is attributable to ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director, Ryan Kiesel:
“It has been clear for too long that the legislature is playing puppet to the District Attorneys’ puppet master. The District Attorneys Council has used its unchecked power to push back against popular, meaningful reforms and now in a classic bait and switch, the DAC undermined another reform measure through an amendment targeting one of our most at-risk populations: children in the justice system.
The amendment is 14 pages long and drastically changes the meaning of this once well-intentioned bill. Language from this amendment was only released days before the vote.
There is global consensus that children cannot be held to the same expectations of responsibility as adults and are entitled to special protection under the law, yet District Attorneys, in their zeal to lock children up for the rest of their lives without parole, saw fit to advance an amendment with no input and without the opportunity for meaningful debate. To make matters worse, it was revealed during the consideration of the amendment that another lawmaker’s good faith effort to address this issue in the open for months, was scuttled when District Attorneys became dissatisfied.
This moment in our state’s history is marked by an over-incarceration crisis which has reached absurd proportions. Rather than working to meaningfully address this problem the District Attorney’s Council, with almost no protest from the legislature, seeks to amplify one of the worst aspects within our justice system by sentencing children to die in prison. The United States is the only country in the world that allows this. As we have begun to move away from this cruelty as a nation, it’s worth why a group of district attorneys is hijacking legislation with surprise amendments that move Oklahoma closer to policy the rest of the world has rejected as inhumane.”