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State Criminal Justice Reform Package Facing Criticism From Experts

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Experts are finally getting a look at a proposal for criminal justice reform rolled out by the governor this week. And they’re not happy with it. 

The governor’s office hastily threw a press conference together this week, presenting the framework for a series of criminal justice reform bills, but not the actual language.

Several news outlets, including News9, did not get an invitation, and the governor’s office can’t answer questions about how much the package will cost or how many inmates will be impacted. Now, we finally have a look at the final language.

“You know, we found some things that are bright spots, that are positive,” said Ryan Kiesel of the ACLU of Oklahoma. “But we also saw some incidents where it looks like we’re taking a step backwards. Where we treat substance abuse as a crime.” 

For example, the ACLU says, under the bills, if a parolee is caught with drugs or alcohol in their system three times in three months that’s another offense. The ACLU says the bills were negotiated behind closed doors and really accomplish little in terms or meaningful criminal justice reform.

“Nothing in these bills looks, to us, like it would avert the necessity of building new prisons in the state of Oklahoma. None of this looks like the kind of reforms that reflect the urgency of the situation,” Kiesel said.

Majority Floor Leader Sen. Greg Treat, says it’s a start.

“I’m all about trying to get field position and move the ball down the road. And you saw what we tried to do last year, which is just scoring touchdowns on every bill and we didn’t achieve anything. So, I’m a pragmatist and we said, ‘What can we actually pass?’” Treat said.

The Department of Corrections says, even if these bills pass the state will still need two new prisons to handle the growing population. The price tag for those prisons is about $800 million.

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