Group Concerned About Newly Released Criminal Justice Reform Plan
OKLAHOMA CITY - An organization working towards criminal justice reform has concerns about a plan released by the governor’s office this week. Specifically, it’s not very specific.
Lawmakers say they plan to fast track a series of bills to reduce the time non-violent offenders serve in prison. The goal is to reduce the state’s prison population. But one group says the deal was negotiated behind closed doors and with no transparency.
Damita Price, 49, of Tulsa was sentenced to life in prison without parole after she was convicted for selling drugs to pay her son’s medical bills. She says her son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and her insurance company dropped her policy.
So, the former accounts receivable worker, turned to selling drugs. She has no violent criminal history.
“I tried to get help. I couldn’t find help,” Price said with tears streaming down her face. “So, my last resort was to sell drugs.”
“Somebody had to look at her and say she deserves to die in prison,” said Ryan Kiesel with the ACLU. “And do you know who that was? It was a district attorney. These are the folks that have been the largest single impediment to criminal justice reform.”
Those are the same district attorneys, the ACLU says, who flanked the governor as she announced a plan for criminal justice reform this week. The plan is based on bills that failed last year, that include streamlining the parole process and reducing sentences for repeat non-violent offenders.
But, “We don’t know what language is in the current form of these bills,” said Chris Steele with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. “(We) Haven’t seen any language yet. We would love to see the language. We would like to do an analysis of the language. We don’t know what the language is.”
Kiesel added, “There is reason to be concerned. Because when we look at who was in that room it was the district attorneys... We should be very suspect of anything that comes out of this so-called agreement.”
Ms. Price served 21 years in prison before her sentence was commuted by Governor Fallin.
The governor’s office released a statement saying:
“Discussions between legislators, district attorneys and the governor’s office reached a fair compromise agreement to allow these six criminal justice reform measures to advance in the Legislature. If left unchanged, they probably would remain stalled in the Legislature. The compromise was reached during negotiations in which all necessary stakeholders were present. Bill language has been finalized and should be inserted in the appropriate bills, which will be available for viewing online.”
But the governor’s office does not know what the financial impact will be or how much the prison population will be decreased.
The chair of the House Public Safety Committee says he’s frustrated by the lack of transparency and doesn’t know how he can support bills without knowing what their impact will be.