Oklahoma passes reform bills, and the news in criminal justice this week

“The advancement of these bills is an important step in the right direction to slow our prison population growth.”

Both chambers in Oklahoma passed criminal justice reform bills this week that would keep nonviolent offenders out of prison. Bills passed by the House would create an administrative parole process for nonviolent offenders, establish a geriatric parole process for inmates aged 60 or older, raise the threshold for felony property crimes to $1000, and create a tiered penalty structure for property offenses. Senate reforms included the creation of a risk and needs assessment for sentencing, reduction of enhanced sentences for some repeat nonviolent felonies, and elimination of the mandatory minimum sentence for vehicle theft.

“The Excessive Fines Clause is ripe for consideration in the age of mass incarceration.”

A civil asset forfeiture case from Indiana may give the Supreme Court the opportunity to apply the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines and fees to the states. The Eighth Amendment is one of only two portions of the Bill of Rights that has not been applied to the states. The other, the Third Amendment, bans the quartering of troops in private homes. While the Court has yet to decide whether to take up the Indiana case, a concurrence from Justice Neil Gorsuch included an offhand reference to “extravagant” civil punishments, including "forfeiture provisions that allow homes to be taken."

“The database is riddled with dubious entries, discrepancies and outright errors.”

The Chicago Police Department’s gang database is regularly cited in criminal investigations, immigration enforcement and court proceedings, and may also be accessible during background checks, but there are no clear rules for classifying someone as a gang member, and thousands of entries belong to people who were never arrested or charged with a crime. Some people are identified as gang members based on tattoos or tips from informants, while others are included because of where they live. A CPD spokesman told ProPublica the department is drafting a plan to include vetting entries, limiting agency access, and giving people a way to challenge and appeal their status.

“From my past, everyone’s always seen the worst in me but now I have people who see the best in me and give me a chance and an opportunity.”

Public Radio International’s Unequal Justice series continued this week with a profile of Ronna Stone and her experience in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, where the number of women in prison is falling. The county’s Women in Recovery program helps women address the trauma and behaviors that led to addiction, find employment, and regain custody of their children. (The Justice Action Network profiled the program in a film here.) Previous entries in the series, which looks at rising rates of women behind bars around the world, are available here.  

“It’s about cutting the chains that hold people down from trying to get back on their feet, and it’s about protecting public safety.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a justice reform bill that will affect nearly every part of the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system. Reforms include the elimination of some mandatory minimum sentences, expungements for some offenses committed by individuals under the age of 21, diversion programs for low-level offenders, and an increase in the felony larceny threshold from $250 to $1200. The bill also includes new mandatory minimum sentences for fentanyl and carfentanil trafficking, and for assault and battery on a police officer.