Criminal Justice

Ray Carter | March 4, 2022

Sentencing reform headed to full Senate

Ray Carter

A major overhaul of Oklahoma’s sentencing laws now awaits a vote from the full state Senate after it gained approval in two committees.

Senate Bill 1646, by state Sen. Dave Rader, creates the Oklahoma Crime Reclassification Act of 2022. The legislation attempts to impose comparable sentences on comparable nonviolent crimes.

“This is not a soft-on-crime bill,” Rader said. “We still hold the criminal accountable.”

He noted the most violent crimes—those for which convicts are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence—are not touched by the bill.

However, because existing law was passed piecemeal over many years, for the remainder of crimes Oklahoma’s current sentencing structure often imposes longer sentences than what is the norm in many other states. Although Oklahoma ranks 16th highest in prison admissions, Rader noted the state ranks third highest for incarceration.

Rader said the new sentencing structure would shave about six months off the typical prison sentence. Over time, those small changes are expected to lower the overall prison population. If SB 1646 becomes law, an analysis indicates it will reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by 969 individuals and reduce prison costs by $16.8 million.

Rader noted that 36 other states use a classification system similar to the one contained in SB 1646.

State Sen. Darrell Weaver, a Moore Republican who previously served as director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, debated against the bill, saying it reduces sentences for crimes that deserve longer incarceration.

“This is not reform,” Weaver said. “This is abandonment of the victim. And I’m not talking about somebody that lost $100 in some kind of scam. I’m talking about kids and adults.”

He said it is a mistake to focus only on reducing prison costs and not focus on how victims are impacted by the people in prison.

Rader responded that it is “not all about money,” and that supporters of sentencing reform are “talking about lives too.”

SB 1646 passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 15-4 vote. The legislation previously passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma Senate for a vote from all members.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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