Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force has made 27 smart-on-crime recommendations to reform the criminal justice system.
If implemented, the changes could finally reverse the arc of Oklahoma’s unsustainable prison population growth and save some $2 billion in future costs.
Oklahoma locks up more of its population than 48 other states and more of its women than anyone else. That comes at a terrible cost, and we’re not just talking about appropriations to the overcrowded prison system. Overincarceration robs the state budget, destroys families and perpetuates the cycle of poverty. It creates tax consumers instead of taxpayers.
Oklahomans aren’t naturally any more criminal than residents of others states, so the system isn’t making us any safer. It’s just making us poorer.
The 21-member task force includes representatives of law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, courts, the prison system, the Legislature, private industry and the nonprofit world.
Their recommendations cover sentencing, supervision, clemency and other critical elements, all of which need changes if the state is to make the system sustainable.
Under the recommendations approved by the task force’s majority, none of the state’s most serious crimes — those requiring 85 percent of sentences to be served prior to parole consideration — would be modified. Instead, the recommendations aim at relatively petty offenses — minor drug and property crimes — that are filling our prisons with people whose lives could be changed more effectively with programs that are much less expensive than incarceration.
State voters overwhelmingly have approved two state questions that took important intermediate steps in the direction of smart-on-crime reforms. Clearly, there is public support for moving Oklahoma’s criminal justice system closer to the national norm, steps to reduce recidivism, make the public safer, and leave more money for things other than prisons.
Such a big change in philosophy and law will be a tough issue for the legislators to handle in one year, but they ought to do it. We call on lawmakers to study the recommendations quickly, refine them if necessary and get these ideas working for the state.