OKLAHOMA CITY – The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a measure to better determine the amount of savings from a state question enacting criminal justice reform. Senate Bill 844, by Senate Appropriations Chair Roger Thompson, was first approved by the Health and Human Services Committee last week.
Thompson, R-Okemah, said his legislation revisits the criminal justice reform proposals approved by Oklahoma voters in 2016. State Question 780 changed some of the state’s low-level drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors to keep those offenders out of prison. The companion question, SQ 781, directed the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) to calculate the savings and redirect that funding to mental health services aimed at keeping those individuals on the right track.
“The problem has been, how do you accurately figure out what those savings really are? OMES looked at total arrests, and said those people didn’t go to prison, so we’ll see a savings of over $63 million. But not everyone who is charged goes to prison,” Thompson said. “And you can’t just look at the Department of Correction’s bottom line because that doesn’t take into account inflation and other cost increases. We needed a better way to get those figures and utilize those funds to change lives.”
Thompson said his legislation turns the responsibility of determining those savings over to the state’s fiscal watchdog agency, the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT).
“LOFT is the perfect agency to dive into those numbers and determine the best way to calculate the savings. Those funds will go into a special account in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to support a range of services like housing, employment, mental health and substance abuse programs,” Thompson. “SB 844 honors the will of the people who voted for these changes and the intent of the law, but most importantly, it will help change lives for the better throughout Oklahoma.”
SB 844 will next be considered by the full Senate.
For more information, contact: Sen. Roger Thompson at 405-521-5588 or email Roger.Thompson@oksenate.gov.