Several criminal justice reform measures that seek to stop the state’s swelling prison population would effectively be gutted under a proposition by Oklahoma prosecutors, a report obtained by The Frontier claims.
The bills carrying the criminal justice reform language, which had the support last year of Gov. Mary Fallin, were blocked in committee after lawmakers, criminal justice reform advocates and prosecutors could not come to an agreement on what the bills should look like.
The report obtained by The Frontier claims the proposal by the district attorneys would result in only a minor difference to the high prison population growth projected for Oklahoma in coming years. The changes would do little to stop the state from building “at least” two new prisons that would cost more than $1 billion, the report claims.
On Monday Fallin announced a “conceptual agreement” between legislators, district attorneys and advocates to pass the criminal justice reform measures, but little was offered in the way of specifics.
“These reforms are targeted toward non-violent offenders, many who suffer from addiction and mental health issues,” Fallin said, according to Nondoc. “The agreement also, I believe, is a huge first step in moving us forward toward our goal of reducing (prison populations).”
Whatever the plan was that was agreed upon Monday, it will likely differ from the prosecutors’ proposal, though it’s unknown by how much. The prosecutors’ proposal appears to be so different from the original language of the reform bills that it may have taken extreme concessions to get them on board.
Fallin announced Monday’s agreement as a compromise — a number of the criminal justice reform bills she supported last year were blocked from passing as lawmakers, district attorneys and reform advocates found themselves at odds over the proposals. That came despite overwhelming support by Oklahoma voters in 2016 for state questions that reformed the state’s drug possession and property crime penalties.
District attorneys across the state had voiced the loudest opposition to the reforms, which came as a result of a lengthy Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force study, so it was with some hesitation that advocates for change listened to Fallin’s announcement.
“It’s hard to determine whether this agreement is impactful because no prison bed savings projection has been made and no bill language was actually provided,” Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform chairman Kris Steele told The Oklahoman on Monday. “From what we’ve heard, this appears to be a proposal that grows the prison population, albeit by a lesser amount than other prosecutor proposals. Until we see specifics, we’ll be encouraging our leaders to keep pushing for the full task force plan that safely prevents prison growth and puts Oklahoma on a more stable path going forward.”
Steele did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
While it’s unclear what changes were made to the original proposal in order to get Oklahoma’s district attorneys on board, it’s likely to be extensive. Senator Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma, told The Oklahoman on Monday that the “skeletal structure” of the proposal was the same, but that “all parties” had agreed on some changes.
“You’re not going to see any changes in these bills until you truly get down into the details regarding ranges of punishment, enhancements, the Pardon and Parole Board process, opportunities to get people eligible for the parole process earlier and things like that,” Treat told The Oklahoman.
It’s unknown where the report obtained by The Frontier originated. Several outside groups have attempted to monitor Oklahoma’s criminal justice reform proposals and the report includes several specific details from a district attorneys’ proposal that was never publicly circulated.
Those details include prison population growth figures and specific changes to proposed bills. It also includes a list of policies removed from the original task force recommendations as well as some added to the recommendations in order to “obtain district attorney support.”
The report projects the DAs’ proposal would reduce Oklahoma’s needs to keep up with prison growth by only 1,500 beds in the next decade, far less than the task force’s recommendations. The report claims that level of growth that would result will still require two new prisons to be built. Cost projections for the prisons to be built, managed and maintained have previously been pegged at between $1-2 billion.
Michael McNutt, Fallin’s spokesman, told The Frontier it was his understanding the 1,500 bed figure came from the original district attorney’s proposal, and will change under the compromise announced by Fallin on Monday.
“We’re still waiting on updated numbers from the compromised proposal, but we expect it to be significantly more than 1,500,” McNutt said in an email.
The OJRTF presented a plan last year they said would reduce the projected prison growth over the next decade by more than 9,000 beds. The task force’s study estimated that without reform, Oklahoma’s prison population would grow from about 28,000 inmates in 2017 to nearly 36,000 by the beginning of 2026. That figure that would require the state to “build or lease” three new prisons, the report claimed.
The task force estimated that its suggested reforms would stunt that growth. Rather than a massive increase, by 2026 the prison population was projected to decrease to about 26,500 inmates, the plan states.
Instead, the report obtained by The Frontier shows that the reforms proposed by district attorneys would change little about the projected growth. The report projects their plan would only reduce the projected population growth by about 1,500 inmates.
“The proposal offered by the district attorneys would reduce the prison population by only 1,500 beds of the 7,200 beds projected to be added to the prison system,” the report obtained by The Frontier states. “This proposal would provide no relief to the current crisis in the prison system.”
The DAs proposal “would gut or kill the bills that will eliminate the prison growth, produce the largest cost saving, and shift resources to treatment and supervision,” the report claims.
Among the changes, the district attorneys proposal would radically alter four of the five bills that were blocked from passing in 2017.
Aspects of several of the bills appear to have been eliminated completely, while others are strongly altered. The report lists eight policies it says were removed from the OJRTF recommendations and four that were added as “compromises made to obtain district attorney support.”
The report ends by saying “The data show that the (prosecutors) proposal results in a prison population of over 34,000 inmates by 2026, 137% of current capacity, requiring at least one new male prison and one new female prison.”