Stitt unveils criminal justice reform wish list
With weeks remaining in the legislative session, Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday rolled out his wish list for the criminal justice reforms he would like to see this year.
The governor’s criminal justice reform package includes some, but not all, of what reform advocates were pushing this legislative session. But Stitt’s priorities garnered bipartisan praise from lawmakers and support from groups outside the Legislature.
Stitt’s criminal justice reform package includes:
• $10 million aimed at trying to break the incarceration cycle by addressing mental health needs and reintegration after incarceration.
• Support for House Bill 1373, which would allow those convicted of a nonviolent felony to receive an occupational job license, so long as the job is not related to the offense.
• Support for a slightly altered version of HB 1269, which would apply State Question 780 retroactively so there is an expedited commutation process to release offenders incarcerated on drug possession charges or some other felonies that are now considered misdemeanors.
• Support for an expedited expungement process to clear the convictions of Oklahomans who were convicted of such crimes.
• A push for creation of a new funding structure for prosecutors and courts to send court fees and fines to the state’s General Revenue Fund. Ultimately, Stitt hopes the new system would result in fewer court fines and fees and eliminate a conflict of interest between generating revenue and administering justice.
• Support for SB 616 to create parole supervision standards and sanctions to keep parolees from returning to prison.
The governor’s eleventh-hour actions likely serve as a signal to the Legislature to prioritize these reforms as the legislative session starts to wind down. The Legislature must adjourn by 5 p.m. May 31, but lawmakers will likely try to adjourn early.
Stitt made clear Wednesday he doesn’t want lawmakers leaving the Capitol without making progress on criminal justice reform.
“We can accomplish these reforms this year in a way that continues to keep our streets safe and ensures Oklahomans who are facing addiction and health challenges can take hold of opportunities for a second chance,” Stitt said in a news release. “Much more progress needs to be made, and I am committed to keeping criminal justice a top priority in my administration.”
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition of people pushing five main legislative reforms this session, supported Stitt’s reform package Wednesday.
Kris Steele, the group’s executive director, said he’s eager to see details on some of the governor’s proposals, namely making SQ780 retroactive — a top priority for the coalition.
“Today, the governor and legislative leaders announced positive measures to invest in diversion and treatment programs and alleviate the burdens on individuals caught up in the criminal justice system.”
Not included in Stitt’s reform package were four other pieces of legislation, largely pushing for bail and sentencing reform, backed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. But Steele expressed confidence that Stitt will persevere on criminal justice reform beyond this year.
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, praised Stitt for championing criminal justice reform this session. Democrats were pleased to see Stitt calling for diversion funding and prioritizing separating court funding from fees, fines and assessments levied on offenders, she said.
“The treatment for and diversion funding for our courts, that’s an excellent priority for the governor to have,” Floyd said. “Those diversion programs keep so many people from not only from going into the system without the right treatment, it makes them more productive when they get out.”
Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Oklahoma City, is one of the sponsors of a bill that would apply SQ 780 retroactively. The governor wants an amended version of the bill sent to his desk, but it won’t change the heart of the measure, she said.
Under the original bill, those applying for a commuted sentence would go through a judicial review process. But Stitt wants to change those commutations to go through the state’s Pardon and Parole Board.
“I am excited that the governor is really focusing on criminal justice reform and is looking at supporting these measures we’ve been working on all session,” Bice said. “Some of these are incredibly important.”