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Stitt's justice reform proposals show some progress

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Gov. Kevin Stitt
Gov. Kevin Stitt

In his State of the State speech, Gov. Kevin Stitt asked his audience to “take a moment to reimagine our state’s criminal justice system,” which incarcerates more people, per capita, than any state. New proposals provide a glimpse into his vision.

Stitt last week highlighted six things he wants accomplished in the final month of the legislative session. Stitt acknowledged that “much more progress needs to be made,” and that criminal justice will remain a priority in his administration. We hope so. For now, he’s asking for the following:

• A new funding structure for district attorneys and courts in which fees and fines go to the state’s general revenue fund to be appropriated. Stitt says the current arrangement creates a conflict of interest between generating revenue and administering justice.

• $10 million to fund mental health and post-incarceration programs, to try to break the incarceration cycle.

• Passage of an amended version of House Bill 1269, which seeks to make retroactive the reforms included in State Question 780, approved by voters in 2016. SQ 780 reclassified some low-level drug and property crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Stitt wants to expedite the commutation and expungement processes for those doing time for drug possession or other felonies that are now considered misdemeanors.

• Approval of House Bill 1373, with would let Oklahomans who have a nonviolent felony conviction be licensed in jobs unrelated to the criminal offense.

• Support for Senate Bill 616, which would eliminate the ability of inmates to waive their parole and create parole supervision standards that reduce the number of people who wind up returning to prison. The focus would be on intermediate sanctions whenever possible.

• Looking to next year, Stitt wants the Legislature to modernize the state’s criminal code by, among other things, removing outdated crimes, creating a comprehensive “A/B/C” classification system as in other states, and make it possible to create new sentencing and enhancement standards based on the new classifications. “Classifying the criminal code will protect public safety and shrink our prisons by modernizing criminal laws, linking much-needed bail reform to classifications, and creating alternatives to incarceration that are effective and save money,” Stitt said.

Stitt’s rollout included endorsements from executives with groups such as the Tulsa and Oklahoma City chambers of commerce, Right on Crime, Justice Action Network and FreedomWorks. Legislative leaders from both parties said they liked what they saw.

The governor’s list isn’t as extensive as some would like. Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, although it endorsed Stitt’s proposals, had presented lawmakers with a slate of reforms that it said would cause the inmate population to fall below today’s level by 2028, instead of growing by as much as 14 percent during that time.

However, the governor’s proposals would represent progress, and some progress is far better than none on this critical issue.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›

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