Criminal Justice

An update on criminal justice reform in Oklahoma

July 5, 2017

Cody Ray Milner

In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved State Questions 780 and 781. The success of these measures showed a desire among Oklahomans to break the devastating cycle of recidivism and generational incarceration by reducing sentences for nonviolent (particularly drug-related) crimes and placing increased emphasis on rehabilitation and work programs.

At the outset of this year’s legislative session, the Justice Reform Task Force published a report listing twenty-seven specific policy proposals from their yearlong study. State legislators turned these into a package of bills designed to move toward a redemptive justice system in Oklahoma. Three of these bills passed both legislative chambers and were signed into law by Governor Fallin. These new laws will take effect on November 1, 2017.

Nine other criminal justice reform bills were introduced but either not heard in committee before the end of the session, or passed by both legislative chambers in alternative versions. The majority of these bills are expected to be taken up in the 2018 session and contain most of the remaining policy proposals from the Justice Reform Task Force report.

As these measures show, policymakers are working to follow the direction set by voters with State Questions 780 and 781. Yet the advances made this year are only the first steps to make sure Oklahoma’s justice system itself is not a snare that prevents offenders from being reformed and living a productive life. The measures still on the table can be taken up by legislators in the 2018 session. Oklahoma must remain dedicated to breaking the cycle of criminality and giving people the chance to restore their lives and find success in society.