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State Board Of Corrections Approves Sentencing Reforms

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It is a major change to Oklahoma state prisons. The approval, handed down by the Board of Corrections Thursday, has been met with both praise and ire. It is a major change to Oklahoma state prisons. The approval, handed down by the Board of Corrections Thursday, has been met with both praise and ire.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

It is a major change to Oklahoma state prisons. The approval, handed down by the Board of Corrections Thursday, has been met with both praise and ire.

It’s the final step to a request made by Governor Mary Fallin’s office earlier this year. Fallin has been calling for prison reform since January when she made it a key part of her inaugural speech. Fallin called for more rehabilitation and treatment for inmates, which now number more than 29,000 in state prisons.

Before the new approval, serious offenders like violent, sexual and aggravated drug offenders were required to serve 85 percent of their sentence before getting time served for good behavior. Many would end up serving 90 to 93 percent of their sentences, according to one official from the Department of Corrections.

Under the new reading, prisoners can start accruing time served before their 85 percent date. The changes would mean the possible immediate release of 190 inmates, with a total of 400 up for released by the end of the year, according to the same DOC official. Alex Weintz, a spokesperson for Fallin made it clear Friday, the changes were not early release but merely a new understanding of the existing law.

In a statement Friday, Fallin’s office praised the board saying in part, "The decision… will create a safer working environment for correctional officers, encourage rehabilitation, and aid the Department of Corrections in reducing a surging prison population."

But not everyone is so positive about the change. Many are concerned about the seemingly early release of violent offenders who would be released without being under parole supervision. There are also worries about whether an inmate will be able to be fully rehabilitated under the new ruling. 

State Rep. Scott Biggs (R-51), one of the harshest critics of the new reading, called the approval “back room” and “Washington D.C. Style” politics in a release Friday. He said the Board of Correction’s actions showed "no regard for the crime victims, judges, sentences or the safety of Oklahomans in general."

Biggs said he plans on asking Attorney General Scott Pruitt to issue an opinion on whether the BOC had the legal authority to change the sentencing guideline.

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