Friday is the deadline to approve a special interim study into criminal justice reform. Backers say the reforms could lessen the state’s non-violent prison population and save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Last year the governor set up a task force to look into criminal justice reform. That task force came up with 12 recommendations, but most were held up by one legislator. Representative Scott Biggs (R) Chickasha held over the bills in an eleventh-hour, five-minute long meeting. He wants an interim study into the possible unforeseen consequences of the bills.
Governor Mary Fallin says that means at least another year of costly prisons.
"What that means is you have overcrowded prisons, you have certainly the highest rate of incarceration of women, second in the nation overall incarceration of men and women," Governor Fallin said. "Not only do you have the prison overcrowding, but you have lives that are torn apart."
Biggs' concern is that the state does not adequately define what crimes are non-violent.
"So, we fixed that. We listened to him,” Fallin said, “He gave great advice so we tweaked some of the language."
Biggs says that’s not true.
"I would encourage her to look in the bills and show me where that was fixed. Because that's simply not the case."
He says there is a lot of gray area in state statute.
"There are a lot of violent crimes such as domestic abuse by strangulation, stalking, engaging in a hate crime. You know, they had attempted to make that a non-violent crime this session."
Biggs says that’s why he wants the interim study; to define violent crime in Oklahoma.
The governor says the study has already been done by her experts in law.
"From the judges to the district attorneys to defense attorneys to victims’ advocates and everything in between," Fallin said, "If we keep putting these issues off on criminal justice reform and the crisis that we have within our prison systems we're gonna be in a world of hurt."
Biggs says the other problem is cost. He says the reforms will cost hundreds of millions of dollars up front money the state simply doesn’t have.
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