Justice reform advocates applaud Senate Public Safety Committee for passage of meaningful sentencing reform

Colleen McCarty, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform 

Note: The following commentary was sent Friday (February 19) to CapitolBeatOK.com, The City Sentinel newspaper and other news organizations. McCarty spoke on behalf of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR).

Oklahoma City – We applaud the Senate Public Safety Committee for moving forward on meaningful criminal justice reform with Senate Bill 704. Oklahoma has had one of the highest imprisonment rates in the country for decades. 
Our incarceration crisis is caused in large part by the use of sentence enhancements, which add years, decades and even life in prison to a person’s sentence. As a result, Oklahoma hands down some of the harshest sentences in the nation. 
These long sentences have historically pushed the Department of Corrections budget to half a billion dollars. 

Senate Bill 704 would eliminate sentence enhancements for most nonviolent offenses (not including domestic abuse felonies, animal cruelty, DUI causing great bodily injury, or offenses requiring sex offender registration). 
This reform could safely reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by almost 1,400 people over the next decade and save Oklahoma taxpayers at least $137 million. 
Those resources could be reinvested in crime prevention and victim support programs to support safer communities in Oklahoma. 

Bipartisan organizations, Oklahoma business leaders, policy experts, advocates and Oklahoma families are supportive of Senate Bill 704. We encourage the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve the bill. 
Oklahoma needs meaningful reform and it cannot happen without reducing the harsh impact of sentence enhancements.

Bio Sketch: Colleen McCarty is Policy Counsel with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.