OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Kevin Stitt and legislative leaders yesterday announced support for a package of bills related to the criminal legal system. The policies highlighted are a strong departure from Stitt’s previous rhetoric on the issue. The announcement shifted away from key pieces of legislation that would have a real impact on the number of people in prison and jails, begin to address the mass incarceration crisis, and stop Oklahoma’s continuing margin of growth in rate of incarceration, in favor of the familiar promise of real reform next year.
Nicole McAfee, ACLU of Oklahoma Smart Justice Campaign Manager, issued the following statement about yesterday's package of reforms:
“At a time when there is unparalleled momentum for meaningful change to our mass incarceration crisis, and a number of bills still viable that could marry best practices, public safety, cost savings, and public support, the meager package announced yesterday is confusing and disappointing. Even the endorsement of HB 1269 shifts away from the carefully considered sentence modification plan to a plan that has not been publicly released or discussed in the legislature and seems to focus the process on the already overburdened and under-resourced pardon and parole board.”
The package also does not mention anything about the critical reforms on the table around possession with intent to distribute (HB 1100), sentence enhancements (HB 2009), supervision practices (HB 2273/HB 2218), jury sentencing reform (HB 2310) and, maybe most urgent, SB 252 which moves our pre-trial system and money bail system closer towards constitutional standards. The reforms available to this legislature and to Governor Stitt’s administration are the kinds of bold, but realistic proposals that move us towards a top ten state. Yesterday's proposal feels more like business as usual than real leadership.
As this session winds down and too many Oklahomans continue to be incarcerated without access to real justice, we hope Governor Stitt will reevaluate yesterday's plan, listen to the leaders who are innovating on reform, and not defer to the defenders of a broken system like the majority of the members of the reclassification council whose personal interests are tied to the status quo. Governor Stitt has proven multiple times in his short tenure that if he wants something to happen, he will use the full power of the Executive to get it done. The same could be true with criminal justice reform. If Governor Stitt would lean into real, robust reforms he could ensure Oklahoma moves in the right direction.
There is still a chance for the Governor, Speaker McCall, and Pro Temp Greg Treat to follow the lead of Oklahoma voters and of bill authors like Senator Roger Thompson, Representative Jon Echols, Representative Jason Dunnington, Representative Garry Mize, Representative Josh West, and Representative Avery Frix, and enact reform that will have a long-term impact on addressing the mass incarceration crisis in Oklahoma, starting this session.”