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Sentencing reform committee wants prisoners to serve more time

In 2018, Attorney General Mike Hunter was charged with reclassifying prison sentences in Oklahoma. But instead of working to reduce incarceration rates, the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Council has released recommendations that would make it more difficult for incarcerated people to serve shorter sentences. 

While the purpose of the council was not to increase sentences for Oklahomans with felony crimes, that’s exactly what happened. The Oklahoma Criminal Justice Council, which did not include any criminal justice advocates on its team, modified sentencing guidelines, in a move that will actually increase the already-astronomical population of prisoners in Oklahoma. 

Council recommends prisoners serve longer terms

The initial goal was to keep the Oklahoma prison population at a net-neutral rate — or decrease it. However, the many law enforcement officials and county district attorneys on the council demanded stricter guidelines, and the Oklahoma Attorney General acquiesced.

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Under the new guidelines, the Oklahoma Parole Board has little say in whether a prisoner is granted parole or early release. If the new recommendations become law, most felony sentences will increase a prisoner’s time incarcerated, from the current standard of 40% of his or her sentence, to 50%, even if the Parole Board recommends early parole or release. 

“Tough on crime” approach will increase mass incarceration

For a common felony crime, such as possession of substances with the intent to distribute, an incarcerated person will now serve eight extra months of his or her sentence. While many across the state welcome these new “tough on crime” standards, Oklahoma taxpayers will feel the changes directly. 

Research does not support the idea that longer sentences reduce recidivism, nor have any studies shown that longer sentences provide any benefit for victims of crimes. And only 15% of Oklahoma prisoners are incarcerated for extremely violent crimes. If the recommendations are enacted, these men and women will now be required to serve 85% of their sentences before the possibility of parole or release. 

Due to the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Council’s recommendations, the prison population is expected to actually increase by 1000 citizens. The cost to taxpayers is at least $20 million to provide shelter, medical care, and food to each incarcerated person. 

Oklahoma currently has one of the highest rates of incarceration of Black citizens in the country. The new recommendations by the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Council are expected to be adopted by this summer. 

1 comment

Kris Whittenburg May 6, 2021 - 2:18 pm

Erika, I just started studying for the LSAT so that as a private lawyer I can be an advocate in the courtroom for so many people in our state who can’t afford a lawyer and are instead represented by public defenders who have so many cases that they can’t keep up. Thanks for making me aware of yet one more reason to work hard to make it happen. There is far too much injustice in a system that should truly presume innocence and afford the best possible defense for all Americans.

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