Three bills that would overhaul Oklahoma’s sentencing policies and another offering more drug treatment programs are moving toward a final vote in the state Senate. The bills, which have already cleared the state House of Representatives are part of the latest effort to overhaul Oklahoma’s criminal justice system to make it more efficient, reduce recidivism, and enhance public safety.
In 2015, Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) signed legislation — the Justice Safety Valve Act — to allow for exceptions to the Oklahoma’s mandatory minimum sentences, which have contributed to the rise in the state’s prison population. The law allows judges to determine, based on a risk assessment, whether an offender is a public safety risk.
These “safety valves” are a vital part of state-level justice reform efforts. A recent report by Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the American Legislative Exchange Council highlighted the efforts in Georgia and South Carolina to save money and reduce crime rates through safety valves. State-level efforts are also highlighted in a FreedomWorks’ report, Federalism in Action: How Conservative States Got Smart on Crime.
During her State of the State address in February, Fallin urged lawmakers to reduce the state’s mandatory minimum sentences. “Oklahoma’s drug possession sentences haven’t deterred substance abuse and have filled our prisons to over capacity,” Fallin said. “These sentences, while well intentioned, tend to send some nonviolent offenders into prison for years and years, where they live alongside violent offenders whose bad influences can make nonviolent offenders worse.”
Oklahoma lawmakers have responded to…