As the March 1 committee deadline nears, the Oklahoma Legislature has not considered meaningful criminal justice reform measures authored this session, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Ryan Kiesel, a former state legislator who is now executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said in weekend press release:
“The governor, legislative leadership, and members of both parties have repeatedly declared this to be the session for criminal justice reform, but as we near [this] week’s committee deadline it is becoming more difficult to believe that those claims are anything more than political posturing. Legislative leaders appear prepared to waste this opportunity to fix a system that is destroying the lives of thousands of Oklahomans and bankrupting our state. The people of Oklahoma need more than empty words.
“Legislation aimed at responsible reform is on the table, but time is running out. If this is to be the session for criminal justice reform, it is time for leadership to put forth an immediate and serious effort to match their talk with action.
“We desperately hope the legislature proves us wrong, but after next week it may be that Oklahomans will have to resolve themselves to fixing our criminal justice system one ballot measure at a time. That is neither the best course or even remotely desirable, but it sadly may be the only option.”
Movement on the measures would, the group said in a release earlier this month, “send a strong message about the Legislature’s dedication to improving public safety while restoring the lives of their fellow Oklahomans.
“Oklahoma, now officially the world’s largest per capita incarcerator, is in desperate need of immediate reform.” Speaker [Charles] McCall and other members of the legislature have indicated early support this session for criminal justice reform, but have so far advanced only minor legislation aimed at reform while also advancing legislation that would create new felonies for certain offenses.
The ACLU of Oklahoma supports this session several measures aimed at reducing the number of people incarcerated in prisons and jails, and the number of people with felonies on their records. A broad coalition of groups across the political spectrum have long backed sweeping criminal justice reforms, including measures pending in legislative committees now.
In addition to support for the Governor’s Task Force, the ACLU is hopeful that more legislation aimed at addressing mass incarceration will receive serious consideration and ultimately become law this session.
Allie Shinn, Director of External Affairs for the ACLU of Oklahoma, commented recently, “There is promising legislation on a number of fronts, such as Senator Roger Thompson’s Senate Bill 969, which would retroactively apply the reforms of State Question 780. Senator Thompson has emerged as a true and bold leader on this issue. We encourage all those truly interested in reform to follow his lead.”
NOTE: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.