There was a rally at the state Capitol Tuesday pushing criminal justice reform. Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Folks at the rally say five bills working their way through the legislature could change that.
“I’m Rhonda Bear. Also known as DOC number 377488.”
Bear has more inside knowledge of prisons, addiction and the need for reform than any politician at the state Capitol. She served two years of a 10-year sentence for drugs. She also had been addicted to meth for 25 years, since she was just 12 years old.
“80 percent of women in prison we are mad at. We are giving life sentences in rural Oklahoma to people who fail drug court," said Bear.
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform held a rally at the Capitol to garner support for a series of bills to reduce the prison population by focusing more on rehabilitation over incarceration.
“Since 1970, Oklahomas incarceration rate has grown by 500 percent," said Kris Steele of the The Education and Employment Ministry.
Roy Williams of the Greater OKC Chamber of Commerce added, “Locking people up for offenses that are now misdemeanors is really crippling our workforce, because these people should be at work.”
The bills would enhance supervision for parolees, reduce charges for low level possession of drugs and reform our bail system. One bill would make State Question 780, which voters passed in 2016 to reduce penalties for low level crimes, retroactive affecting thousands of prisoners and their children.
“There’s 28,000 children in Oklahoma with an incarcerated parent. And seven out of 10 of those children will follow in their parents footsteps," said Bear.
The governors office released a statement saying criminal justice reform is a top priority for him, but they did not specifically address these bills.