Oklahoma advances reforms, and the news in criminal justice this week

“This is a prime example of an area where we can reform our system, reduce our prison population, rehabilitate offenders and keep families together.”

Oklahoma House Bill 2281, which would reduce penalties for low-level property offenses, passed in the house on Tuesday and heads to the Senate for final approval. State Representative Terry O’Donnell, who sponsored the legislation, said it would help reduce the number of women in Oklahoma prisons: “Many women in our prison system have been convicted of low-level nonviolent crimes like larceny, forgery, and writing bad checks. In fact, convictions for those crimes are where we are seeing some of the greatest growth in our corrections system.” This is the first of several measures Oklahoma will be considering this year as they work to reform a bloated and ineffective corrections system.

“We’re the foot soldiers of the Constitution and sometimes we forget that.”

Former Michigan State Police Detective Sergeant Ted Nelson, who helped develop the civil asset forfeiture curriculum for the state police, testified this week that the practice is being misused, and told reporters he’d seen the state seize items for use in department offices or to be sold for a profit.  He testified in support of HB 4158, which would require a conviction before law enforcement can seize assets under $50,000.

“It is unjust that a theft of something like a pair of shoes or a phone could send someone to prison with a felony conviction on their record for life.”

Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam and Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox announced a bipartisan deal to increase the felony threshold from $200 to $500 and require that defendants pay restitution before getting off of probation or court supervision. Even with this increase, the Commonwealth’s felony theft threshold will still be among the lowest in the nation—34 states have a threshold of $1000 or higher.

“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse, domestic violence, and divorce.”

Kentucky Youth Advocates released an issue brief this week with recommendations on minimizing the impact of parental incarceration on children. Nearly 15% of Kentucky children have been separated from their parent due to incarceration, and the study found this, as an “adverse childhood experience," had a serious impact on short-term health and well-being, as well as increased risk of adult disease, disability, unhealthy behaviors and early death.

“The humiliation is really something you carry with you forever.”

A legislative committee in Arizona voted to increase funding for feminine hygiene products after hearing testimony from formerly incarcerated women about the “bloodstained pants, begging and bartering” at Perryville State Prison. Under current policy, women are provided with twelve pads per month, and have to pay for any additional pads or tampons. Similar legislation is being considered in Maryland and Virginia, and has already become law in Colorado.