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Oklahoma

Total Correctional Population: 74,500

Number on Parole or Probation: 35,500

Number in Local Jail or Prison: 39,000

Incarceration Rate per 100,000 residents: 990

Incarceration Rate Rank: 1st

Corrections Share of 2018 General Fund Expenditures: 8.3%

Sources: 

“Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

"2018 State Expenditure Report," National Association of State Budget Officers 

recently enacted reforms

2019

House Bill 1269: Makes State Question 780 retroactive; provides sentencing modification procedures and provisions for certain drug offenses that are now misdemeanors.

House Bill 1373: Requires licensing boards to explicitly list offenses that would disqualify an individual from obtaining an occupational license, requires that they are explicitly and directly related to the profession; prohibits licensing boards from using vague terms such as "moral turpitude" and "good moral character" as disqualifiers for occupational licenses, etc.

2018

House Bill 2281: Creates a tiered structure for property offenses, based on dollar valuations, with lower ranges of punishments.

House Bill 2286: Streamlines the parole process for compliant, nonviolent offenders and develops a process for granting parole to elderly offenders.

Senate Bill 649: Distinguishes sentencing enhancements between those with prior nonviolent offenses and those with a history of violent offenses.

Senate Bill 650: Eases the process for those with nonviolent criminal histories, who have remained crime-free for a number of years, to apply for a record expungement.

Senate Bill 689: Expands available treatment options for offenders, minimizes some financial barriers that hinder successful re-entry, places restrictions incarceration for technical violations of probation, strengthens supervision for individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses, repeat offenders, and sex offenders, among other changes.

Senate Bill 786: Creates a new level of burglary to distinguish from more severe offenses.

Senate Bill 793: Amends the penalties for certain drug offenses to align the sentence more closely to the individual’s conduct.

Senate Bill 1098: Creates of the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council.

Senate Bill 340: Allows judges to direct a defendant to perform community service if he or she does not have the means to pay the fine or costs.

2017

Senate Bill 603: Requires the Department of Corrections to administer a risk and needs assessment on each inmate and to develop an individualized case plan based on the results of the assessment.

2016

House Bill 2472: Grants district attorneys discretion to file misdemeanor rather than felony charges under certain circumstances.

House Bill 2474: Prohibits the Department of Public Safety from establishing rules that prevent the issuance of a provisional license to an individual due to nonpayment or delayed payment of court-ordered fines, fees, and penalties.

House Bill 2479: Eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for Schedule I or Schedule II drug possession offenses, among other changes.

House Bill 2751: Increases felony theft threshold from $500 to $1,000.

House Bill 2753: Modifies the eligibility requirements for participation in a drug court.

House Bill 2902: Authorizes district attorneys to create a Drug Possession Diversion Program.

 

News

June 21, 2019

“It’s the talk of the prison yard in a lot of prisons statewide.”

Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board received nearly 750 applications for commutations in the first four months of the year, almost twice as many as in the same period in 2018. House Bill 1269, signed into law this year, created a single-stage commutation docket for people whose convictions are for felonies now reclassified as misdemeanors, but the law doesn’t take effect until November 1. Until then, the board conducts a two-stage review and sends recommendations to the governor. More than 560 applications were submitted in May alone. “We’re doing our best to keep afloat,” Interim Executive Director Melinda Romero told the Oklahoman. “We’re processing them as fast as we can.”

May 31, 2019

“Tens of thousands of Oklahomans will be eligible to apply to have their felony taken off their record, which will open up new and hopefully more fruitful employment opportunities for them.”

Oklahoma House Bill 1269 was signed into law this week by Governor Kevin Stitt, making the reforms of State Question 780 retroactive. It establishes an expedited commutation process for individuals serving a felony sentence for crimes that are now misdemeanors, and simplifies expungement for low-level drug possession and property convictions. Up to 60,000 people could be eligible for expungement, and 500-800 people who are currently serving felony prison sentences could be released. The law takes effect on November 1, 2019.

May 10, 2019

“This is a huge deal.”

Legislators in Oklahoma voted to create more specific use of criminal records in state occupational licensing decisions, and remove “good character” requirements from those laws with nearly unanimous, bipartisan support. House Bill 1373 was approved in the House by vote of 90-2 and in the Senate by a vote of 42-0, and Governor Stitt is expected to sign it into law. The Institute of Justice previously ranked Oklahoma as the 11th most burdensome state for occupational licensing, noting that 29 of 102 low-to-moderate income occupations required certification, and data from the  University of Tulsa showed Oklahomans with criminal records had an unemployment rate almost five times as high as the general population.   

March 1, 2019

“It’s been a transformation, and we’re moving in the right direction.”

In fiscal year 2019, Oklahoma has a more than fivefold increase in commutations granted by the Parole and Pardon Board, due in part to a change in the mindset of the board members. “We are beginning to understand and make better decisions based on facts, data and research rather than emotion, fear and anger,” said board member and former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele. Governor Kevin Stitt announced new appointments to the Pardon and Parole Board this week, including Adam Luck, who previously served as Oklahoma State Director for Right on Crime.  

February 15, 2019

“Oklahoma’s occupational licensing laws have grown beyond that is necessary to ensure the safety of our communities.”

In an op-ed in The Oklahoman, Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Tim Head, the American Conservative Union Foundation’s David Safavian and FreedomWorks’ Jason Pye urged lawmakers to reduce barriers to employment for people with criminal records. More than 40 lower-income occupations require a license in Oklahoma and, on average, the license costs $234 in fees and requires 399 days of education. Legislators are currently considering House Bills 1373 and 2134, which would reform the state’s occupation licensing laws. 

January 18, 2019

“I look forward to working with members of both parties to find not Democratic or Republic solutions, but Oklahoma solutions to the issues facing this state. This bill will be a great step in that direction.”
 
Oklahoma House Bill 1269, which would allow recently-passed sentencing reforms to be applied retroactively, was introduced this week by Representatives Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City) and Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City). State Question 780 reclassified several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, but only applied to those charged after July 1, 2017. According to an estimate from Open Justice Oklahoma, 2,500-3,000 people could be immediately eligible for reduced sentences if HB 1269 is adopted.

December 28, 2018

“There are other options, such as industry accreditation or simpler registries, that could offer an appropriate level of oversight without creating obstacles for workers attempting to enter the field.”
 
According to data from the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma licenses 41 lower-income professions, requiring an average of $234 in fees, two exams, and 399 days of education and experience. This week, a bipartisan coalition of state leaders recommended several changes to Oklahoma’s occupational licensing requirements, including expanding the list of boards that are banned from prohibiting the licensing of people with felony convictions unless their crimes were substantially related to the industry, and narrowing the scope of government licensure to work. The alarm and locksmith board, for example, currently requires that all salespeople, managers and security system technicians be licensed. The board recommended that managers and salespeople, who do not have access to peoples’ homes and valuables, should not be required to be licensed. 
 

December 7, 2018

This signals we understand there is a better way to address issues of addiction and mental illness rather than incarceration.”

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin commuted the sentences of 21 people serving time for crimes that now carry no prison term or significantly reduced sentences. Collectively, the clemency recipients had been sentenced to 349 years in prison for drug possession or other nonviolent offenses. The push for commutation was driven by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, with assistance from groups including the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and students from the University of Tulsa School of Law.

November 30, 2018

“Simply removing the stigma of a felony conviction from people with addiction is a positive step, and for this alone, SQ 780 has been a resounding success.”

Analysis from the Oklahoma Policy Institute showed that State Question 780 reversed a long trend of increasing felony filings, reducing filings by more than 28% in the first year since it took effect. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and many minor property crimes as misdemeanors. Effects varied by county, with felony filings dropping by more than 50% in Cotton and Harper counties, while Haskell, Logan, Payne, Johnston and Atoka counties all appeared to show a shift toward harsher charges to avoid SQ 780’s reforms.

August 17, 2018

“These governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.”

Senators are finalizing a federal prison and sentencing reform bill, likely to be introduced in the coming weeks. The reforms are modeled on those implemented at the state level, which have safely cut incarceration rates, improved reentry programs, and lowered crime and recidivism. In USA Today, Governors Ralph Northam (D-VA), Mary Fallin (R-OK), John Bel Edwards, (D-LA) and Matt Bevin (R-KY) encouraged Congress to follow their lead, and pass reforms that promote rehabilitation and workforce participation.

August 17, 2018

“I don’t know how we explain to those people sitting in prison that if somebody got caught now, they’d only get a year but you should be in prison for 15 years when you did the exact same thing.”

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board advanced 23 applicants to the second stage of the commutation review process this week. Following recent changes to drug possession sentencing guidelines, low-level possession with intent to distribute is now a misdemeanor. Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform is working with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and the University of Tulsa College of Law, seeking sentence reductions for people who were sentenced under the previous guidelines.

July 27, 2018

“Her profound belief is that answers to vexing criminal justice problems can be best assessed from the ground up.”

The Bail Project, a five-year, $52 million plan to bail out 160,000 people, started in New York and now operates in Tulsa, St. Louis, Detroit and Louisville. In the Bronx, the average bail posted was $768, and the project’s staff worked with clients to ensure that they showed up for court dates. More than half of their cases resulted in dismissal of all charges, and only 2% of clients were sentenced to jail for the original charges.

June 15, 2018

"Experts have warned Oklahoma policymakers for years of our criminal justice system’s impending disaster. We have made great progress, but we can’t rest now."

Joe Allbaugh, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, argued for continuing reforms to the state’s criminal justice system. While previous efforts have slowed the rate of growth, the prison population is still expected to grow by 2,367 by 2026. Allbaugh seeks to continue working with legislative leaders and the governor on additional reforms, and specifically cited the need for improved access to treatment for mental illness and addiction.

May 11, 2018

“Though many more men are in prison than women, the rate of growth for female imprisonment has been twice as high as that of men since 1980.”

The Sentencing Project analyzed data from 1980 to 2016 and found that the number of incarcerated women and girls had increased by more than 700%, going from 26,378 to 213,722. The incarceration rate varied greatly from state to state, with Oklahoma incarcerating the most (149 of every 100,000 women) and Rhode Island and Massachusetts incarcerating the least (13 of every 100,000 women.)

April 27, 2018

“We have to reduce costs to taxpayers and help non-violent offenders get the help they need so they can be productive citizens.”

Oklahoma legislators passed justice reform bills this week that are projected to reduce the growth in the inmate population by 4851 beds in the next ten years. The bills include judicial discretion in sentencing, administrative parole processes for nonviolent offenders, expanded use of drug courts, the creation of a risk and needs assessment tool for sentencing, and expanded access to expungement.

April 20, 2018

“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.

April 20, 2018

“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.

April 6, 2018

“We encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life and emphasize our belief in second chance for those who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.”

President Trump designated April 2018 “Second Chance Month,” and urged federal, state and local corrections systems to implement evidence-based programs that focus on job training, mentoring, mental health treatment, and addiction treatment. Similar proclamations have been introduced in the Senate by Republican Rob Portman and in the house by Democrat Tony Cardenas, and April 2018 has been declared Second Chance Month in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, the District of Columbia, and the city of Minneapolis.

March 23, 2018

"If we want strong families, a thriving economy and a more robust workforce, we need to reduce our dependence on incarceration and protracted sentencing while maintaining public safety."

The chorus of voices supporting justice reforms, including more effective sentencing practices for nonviolent crimes and proven approaches to cut recidivism and prison populations, continues to grow. The influential State Chamber of Oklahoma is working to turn around the corrections system in their state, which regrettably continues to be home to the largest female incarceration rate in the country and the second-highest male incarceration rate, all while Oklahoma’s Legislature continues to consider a raft of measures that would begin to right-size their prison system.

March 9, 2018

“When we exclude them from the workforce, we are excluding people who are living next to us, who are parents, who are looking for a second chance.”  
 
In Tulsa, organizations like the Resonance Center for Women and the Center for Employment Opportunities are helping connect companies with people who have been incarcerated. They encourage companies to wait until they meet applicants to ask about previous convictions, and to give candidates an opportunity demonstrate their skills and abilities.

February 9, 2018

“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.

January 12, 2018

“There are times when you go fishing and the fish jump in the boat with you”

Oklahoma District Attorneys seized $6.8 million in cash last year, nearly double the amount seized in 2016. This total does not include cash or property seized by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Public Safety, or through federal agencies. 

November 21, 2017

“You quickly get pulled into the criminal justice system and it’s very hard to get out of it.” Oklahoma, whose rate of female incarceration is the nation’s highest, is rethinking its approach to female imprisonment just like Kentucky. Reforms to reclassify minor crimes and increase treatment programs are starting to take effect, but “Oklahoma did not come to have the highest incarceration rate in the country overnight and we’re not going to be able to reverse the trend overnight.”