A crucial piece of criminal justice reform legislation advanced in the state House of Representatives. There were some changes made. And backers say, those changes could mean a second chance for thousands of Oklahomans.
Back in 2016, Oklahomans overwhelmingly voted in favor of State Question 780 to lower the penalties for non-violent crimes.
Now a bill working its way through the legislature will make that retroactive, so folks in prison on felonies that would now be considered misdemeanors, can have their charges reduced. The bill also goes a step further.
“In addition to 780 retroactivity, it adds expungement language which not only allows people who were guilty of misdemeanors out of our jails, thus lowering our incarceration rate, it also gives them an easier path for expungement,” said Representative Jon Echols (R) Majority Floor Leader.
That means the roughly 500 people in prison now on felonies that, by today’s standards, would only be misdemeanors, would have those felonies wiped off their records. It also means people who have felonies on their records from years ago, that today would be misdemeanors, can have their records expunged. The bill has bipartisan backing.
“Could you give us an outline of who is in support and who is against this?” Representative Denise Crosswhite Hader (R) Oklahoma City asked.
Representative Echols responded, “I have not been contacted by any party who is against this bill in its current form. Who is in support of the bill is all of the criminal justice reform advocates, everything from the left to the right. Oklahomans for criminal justice reform, which is funded by the Koch brothers to the ACLU”
Representative David Perryman (D) Minority Floor Leader asked, “What are the chances the governor is going to sign this?”
Echols replied, “I think the chances are 100 percent. He has been very supportive of this bill.”
With up to 80 percent of the state’s prison population suffering with addiction or mental health issues, there’s concern the state budget doesn’t do enough to treat those who will be released.
Backers say, that’s in the works but will take time.
“We’re number one incarceration in the world right now and we’re not going to get off that number unless we do a lot of things,” said Representative Jason Dunnington (D) Co-Author.
If the governor signs it, this bill will go into effect 90 days after it’s passed.
There’s a provision in the bill that makes it easy to have a felony expunged by just filling out a form, instead of the expense of hiring an attorney.