OKLAHOMA CITY – A criminal reform package containing four bills aimed at allowing the state to be smart on crime without jeopardizing public safety was signed by Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday.
Senator Wayne Shaw, author of HB 2753, one of the four bills in the package, said these reforms were overdue and needed to alleviate excessive and growing strain in the state’s prison system.
“These proposals allow Oklahoma to be proactive without jeopardizing public safety,” said Shaw, R-Grove. “It’s no secret our prison system is severely overpopulated and understaffed, and these criminal justice reforms will save the state money and at the same time, facilitate a quicker return back into society for those with lower level offenses so they can provide for their families and contribute to our communities.”
According to Shaw, the measures offer reform in several areas and encompass a comprehensive approach to Oklahoma’s overcrowded prison problem.
HB 2472 will give prosecutors the discretion to file charges as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Shaw said this is an effort to help offenders who didn’t commit a serious crime to get back on their feet upon release and be able to get a job.
HB 2479 reduces the mandatory punishment for subsequent drug offenses and allows offenders to serve adequate but not excessive time for their crimes.
HB 2751 raises the monetary limit from $500 to $1,000 for several property crimes, including embezzlement, falsifying credit cards, grand larceny, and shoplifting, in order to be charged as a felony. It also raises the monetary limit for a false or bogus check to be considered a felony from $1,000 to $2,000.
HB 2753 modifies the eligibility requirements for participation in a drug court, which allows more people to participate in them. Drug courts have proven to be highly effective in lowering recidivism rates and encouraging people to function positively within their communities.
“It has been a reality in recent years that Oklahoma needed to change its “hard on crime” approach,” said Shaw. “Recidivism rates have been steadily on the rise due to the fact that nonviolent offenders tend to become violent offenders themselves after being housed with other violent offenders. In the past, many nonviolent crimes, including drug offenses, have been classified as felonies in Oklahoma and very few businesses will hire felons. As a result, thousands of offenders weren’t able to get jobs when they were released and often times they returned to their criminal lifestyles to make ends meet.”
All four measures become law on Nov. 1.