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Reform advocate hopeful Rep. Tammy West’s new law will advance restorative justice

Patrick B. McGugian 

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has signed into a new law to pilot a “victim-led restorative justice pilot program” for Oklahoma, according to a press release state House legislative staff.

House Majority Caucus Whip Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City crafted the measure, intending – in the words of the House release – “to divert non-violent offenders from traditional prosecution and incarcerations models. Instead, cases are referred to the program and trained citizen-led mediation panels help determine punishment and restoration. The goal is rehabilitation of the offender through reconciliation with the victims and the community at large.”

Rep. West explained, “I’ve looked at models from across the country where these programs have worked wonderfully. Victims of crime feel restored, members of the community feel satisfied. Perpetrators of crimes know the weight of their actions and make restitution without having to serve lengthy jail or prison sentences. This is true criminal justice reform.” 

Colleen McCarty, policy counsel at Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, told The City Sentinel, “We believe in alternatives to prison and diversion programs that are equitable to all Oklahomans. Diversion from prison is the most important intervention the criminal justice system can offer because data shows once people go to prison, it is incredibly difficult for them to ever recover personally, emotionally, and financially. It is crucial that these diversion opportunities are fair and equitable to all Oklahomans.” 

Senator Darcy Jech advanced the measure in the upper chamber. 

In a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK.comThe City Sentinel, and other news organizations, the Kingfisher Republican said, “Restorative justice programs are a great option for non-violent offenders to get the treatment and help they need without putting further strain on our criminal justice system. I’m pleased that both the Senate and House provided overwhelming support for this measure that authorizes district attorneys across the state to create these programs for qualified offenders.”

The measure emerged form an interim study Rep. West guided last year. In the staff release description of the study, “She brought in several experts from across the country where such programs have seen wide success. She said she liked the model because it was victim driven but also helped offenders be restored to their communities. Under the program, an offender’s plan could range from an apology, to repayment or replacement of a stolen item, or other recommendations aimed at repairing harm to the victim and giving the offender a chance to make things right.”

The District Attorneys Council (DAC) – approved under the new bill, “to develop and administer the five-year pilot program — has agreed to look for grant funding. 

The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Administrative Office of the Courts Alternative Dispute Resolution Program also have agreed to provide support.”

Perry, of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform told The City Sentinel, “We believe in alternatives to prison and diversion programs that are equitable to all Oklahomans. Diversion from prison is the most important intervention the criminal justice system can offer because data shows once people go to prison, it is incredibly difficult for them to ever recover personally, emotionally, and financially. It is crucial that these diversion opportunities are fair and equitable to all Oklahomans.”

In the words of the staff press release, the DAC, under House Bill 1880, is directed to “use a deferred-prosecution agreement method, utilizing evidence-based practices and techniques to create the community-based restorative justice program.”

The final version of West’s law passed the House 89-1 (with 11 members not voting) on March 1; in the Senate the legislation sailed through 44-0 (four members absent) on April 14. Gov. Still affixed his signature, enacting the measure, on April 21. 

The new restorative justice legislation will take effect on November 1.

State Representative Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City and State Senator Darcy Jeh, R-Kingfisher. Official Legislative photos
Colleen McCarty is policy counsel at Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a bi-partisan group advocating data-proven and effective policy changes to shift non-violent offenders away from incarceration and into productive lives. Photo Provided