Criminal justice reform is in the spotlight this week at Oklahoma Christian University, as leaders in the field engage in "Complex Dialogues". Speakers hope to inspire students to take charge, to change the system.
Oklahoma still has among the worst incarceration rates in the world in spite of recent efforts to reform the system, but the “Complex Dialogues” series aims to spark ideas for real solutions.
From judges to victims, the speakers at OC's second community forum are looking at the problems from different perspectives to help students better understand the issue.
University board member Don Millican says, “I want them to come away trying to say, why is Oklahoma incarcerating people at such a right rate compared to the rest of the country? Something must be wrong.”
Christy Sheppard spoke to the audience about the delayed justice in her cousin Debbie Carter's murder in Ada, which is now featured in the Netflix documentary "The Innocent Man."
“I started to see how these issues were much bigger than my family,” Sheppard told the crowd.
The two men convicted for the crime spent more than a decade in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence.
“It was really clear what an injustice had taken place,” Sheppard says, “so my family still bears a great deal of guilt for what happened to Ron and Dennis.”
Sheppard now lobbies for reform nationally, exposing the challenges her family faced in accessing information in the case.
Other speakers focused on the financial struggles inmates and their families face that perpetuate the problem.
Millican says, “If you want them to reenter society, if they have this burden of fees and court costs on them, it makes it almost impossible for them to accomplish it.”
Open Justice Oklahoma points out that statewide reforms are starting to result in fewer felony filings since the passage of State Question 780, but the group Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform projects that if drastic change does not happen soon, 5,000 more people will end up in the state’s prisons in the next ten years.