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May 5, 2015

Oklahoma Gov signs "safety valve" legislation giving judges more sentencing discretion

As noted in this prior post, a few month ago the Oklahoma House passed by a significant margin a state Justice Safety Valve Act authorizing state judges to give sentences below otherwise-applicable mandatory minimums.  Now, as effectively reported via this FreedomWorks posting, this notable sentencing reform has become law.  The piece is headlined "Oklahoma becomes the latest Republican state to enact meaningful justice reforms," and here are the details (with links from the original).

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a major bill into law allowing judges to sentence nonviolent offenders below mandatory minimum sentences, a big government, one-size-fits-all policy that costs taxpayers big bucks....

Introduced in February by state Rep. Pam Peterson (R-Tulsa), the Justice Safety Valve Act, HB 1518, is aimed at reducing the rate of incarceration in the Oklahoma, which is among the highest in the United States. The bill allows sentences below mandatory minimums if a judge determines, based on a risk assessment, that a nonviolent offender is not a public safety risk. The bill would allow the state to save much-needed bed space for dangerous criminals.

"Our prison bed space is being taken up with people who don’t need to be there," Peterson told NewsOK.com in February. "These people are breaking the law, but I think we’ve gone to the point now where we need that space for violent offenders and are filling it up with too many nonviolent offenders."

"The courts' hands are often tied because of these mandatory minimums," she said. “Longer sentences do not equate to public safety.”

HB 1518 passed both chambers of the Republican-controlled Oklahoma State Legislature with relative ease. The House approved the bill in March by a 76 to 16 vote. The Senate followed suit in late April, passing the bill in a 31 to 13 vote.  Fallin, a Republican, signed the bill on Monday.

In her State of the State address delivered in February, Fallin urged lawmakers to get "smart on crime," offering support for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. Incarceration, she explained, actually increases the likelihood that an offender will continue a cycle of crime.

"Personal and community safety remain top priorities, and violent criminals will continue to be incarcerated. But the fact is, one in eleven Oklahomans serve time in prison at some point in their lives. Many of our current inmates are first time, nonviolent offenders with drug abuse and alcohol problems. Many also have mental health issues they need treatment for," said Fallin. "For some of these offenders, long sentences in state penitentiaries increase their likelihood of escalated criminal behavior.

"Oklahoma must ramp up its 'smart on crime' policies, including the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, designed to intervene for low-risk, nonviolent offenders and more readily offer alternatives such as drug-courts, veterans courts and mental health courts," she continued. "Implementation of coordinated 'smart on crime' efforts between state and local governments and tribal nations has demonstrated significant cost savings and improved outcomes for offenders and public safety."...

"It costs the state around $19,000 a year to house an inmate, but only $5,000 a year to send an addict through drug court and on to treatment," Fallin explained. "In addition to being less expensive, it’s also more effective; the recidivism rate for offenders sent to drug court is just one-fourth of the rate for those sent to prison."

The Justice Safety Valve Act will take effect on November 1.

May 5, 2015 at 05:22 PM | Permalink


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Big Bill Otis is not happy with this one.

Posted by: anon1 | May 6, 2015 8:31:32 PM

Hello, my name is John Pohocsucut. I have had an addiction to meth since I was 12 yrs old. I have been to prison 3 times for meth related charges. I have never committed any type of violent crimes nor charged for any. I was caught with a small amount of meth on January 9th of 2014. I sat in comanche County jail for 10 months before the Honorable Judge Neuwirth allowed me to go into the H.O.W. FOUNDATION RECOVERY CENTER in tulsa, ok on October 28th 2014 I've completed the program and have been in the sober living part of the program since April 27th of 2015. I have court on March 9th of 2016.(next Wednesday ) my attorney informs me that I'm going to have to serve a 10 year sentence on the day of my hearing. If this law is in effect why would they still send me? I've had the same job since April 27th of 2014. I pay taxes. I have my drivers license for the first time in my life. I have given my life over to my lord and savior Jesus! I have the best relationship with my 3 boys that I've ever had. I'm paying off my past fines. I support my kids financially. It seems that since I'm doing what best for myself and the state of Oklahoma. I'm not costing the state anything now. Wouldn't it be best to sentence someone like me to stay in the structured, monitored environment that I'm in.

Posted by: John Ray Pohocsucut | Feb 29, 2016 8:20:40 PM

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