AG’s Criminal Justice Council Releases Sentencing Plan for Oklahoma
Oklahoma has a chance at substantive sentencing reform for the first time in its statehood and the people tasked with guiding that reform have released a draft proposal for what it might look like.
So far, no public comment on the CJRCC’s work has been allowed and there is no indication public input will be sought.
The CJRCC’s work has taken place mostly in the dark, without any visibility or criticism.
Felony reclassification in Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s “top cop” is Attorney General Mike Hunter. The Oklahoma Legislature passed a law (Senate BIll 1098) during the 2018 session requiring Hunter’s office to create a work group to study and ultimately reorganize criminal sentencing in Oklahoma.
The Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council (CJRCC) started meeting in 2019.
The CJRCC has twenty-two members, including three district attorneys, two sheriffs, a deputy police chief, a retired judge, representatives from the legislature and several state agencies including the Department of Corrections. This group is required by law to compile a recommendation for restructuring Oklahoma’s felony sentences.
In states like Utah and Minnesota, similar commissions have been formed to study and create new sentencing structures. These structures are made up of felony “classes.”
Each class groups similar crimes together and each of the crimes within a class carry the same sentence. For example, Class B2 crimes would all be subject to a sentencing range of 3-20 years (for a first offense, with 50% mandatory time served).
Many state governments have found this to be an effective way to organize felonies so that they can be more easily understood by law enforcement and the public. It is also a good way to eliminate antiquated laws, reduce sentences, and reform old enhancement structures that have grown prison populations without significant return on public safety.
The CJRCC is required by law to keep the prison population neutral or reduce it.
Since the CJRCC was formed in 2018, there has been little movement toward a sentencing structure recommendation.
But unlike federal sentencing reform processes, Oklahoma’s Council has elected not to invite the public to participate through roundtables, open comment hearings, and in other ways which allow for a meaningful dialogue.
The need for felony reclassification
The CJRCC has an extremely important job.
Oklahoma’s criminal code has been inconsistent for many years. Earlier attempts at sentencing reform like this have never been successful, largely because the code is so complicated and unwieldy. Many legislators shy away from comprehensive change like this because it is intricate and difficult to predict outcomes.
Instead of a comprehensive overhaul of the criminal code, the common practice in Oklahoma is to add crimes or change sentences one at a time during the legislative session. This method of adding crimes one at a time over the last few decades has left Oklahoma with an impossibly complicated and scattered criminal code that is often inconsistent. These inconsistencies cost taxpayers because unclear laws will always be litigated, and they are more frequently litigated by public defenders and indigent defense (paid for by state or county taxes). Clarifying, streamlining, and modernizing laws should be an easy sell.
The current proposal and its potential effects
In April 2021, the CJRCC released a draft containing 14 felony categories.
Each includes a range of sentencing reflecting increased punishments based on first, second, and third or more offenses. These ranges escalate if someone has prior offenses on their record.
Within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, good time credits are put in place to allow people serving their sentence to earn extra days off the back end for good behavior. Many corrections professionals point to good time credits as a way to incentivize good behavior inside institutions. Under current law, all felonies (except 85% crimes and Aggravated Trafficking (65%)) are eligible for good behavior credits throughout the duration of their sentence.
But the current CJRCC sentencing proposal includes guidelines requiring new mandatory time served percentages for each felony class. The highest class must serve 75-percent of the sentence before becoming parole eligible, or banking good behavior credits. Each class then decreases from 75-percent to 65-percent, all the way down to the lowest class which is required to serve 10-percent of the sentence. This essentially means that no person serving time will be eligible for good time credits until the mandatory percentage of their time has been served in DOC. Other states have called these kinds of plans “truth-in-sentencing.”
Sentencing guidelines impact all Oklahomans
This proposal is important for people who are currently in the criminal justice system, as well as anyone who may be caught up in the system in the future. It’s important for taxpayers because Oklahomans largely approve of being smarter on crime, not throwing money into an ever-growing incarceration system. When this plan grows the prison population, it’s going to be everyday taxpayers who pay for it.
In its current draft form, the proposal will not apply changes to sentencing guidelines retroactively to adjust sentences already in progress.
Under the current plan, any positive benefit in sentencing would not apply to anyone currently incarcerated.
The current proposal if enacted without debate will cause an increase in the prison population, solely based on the provision of mandatory time served percentages being applied across all crimes, instead of only a few like we have now. The CJRCC is required by law to put together a plan that holds neutral or reduces the prison population.
This proposal will ultimately impact all Oklahomans.
It’s important for people to get engaged and demand input to the plan.
It’s time to turn on the light.
13 thoughts on “AG’s Criminal Justice Council Releases Sentencing Plan for Oklahoma”
This process represents high tech, high stakes lynching of unsuspecting victims who will be sentenced under laws protecting the establishment rather than the rights of the individual
Mike Hunters team he put together should not have any input on sentencing , he resigned. He was CROOKED and what his team is perposing the prisons will always be overcrowded.
The prisons are always overcrowded now
Retroactive 85% to 50% for all crimes will make a huge impact on the state. Let a person earn their way out of prison with good behavior instead of just releasing ppl regardless of behavior as they do now. If a person earns their way out and their less likely to reoffend but if you just release ppl based on the percent if time done then you accomplished nothing but higher likelihood of crimes being committed
Victims need a voice on this
Not all 85% crimes are violent! Just like not all 85% crimes are victim related! They need to separate the 85% that has nothing to do with violence from the ones that are; that way there wouldn’t be so much controversy over this subject. But its not fair for someone with conspiracy to aggravated drug trafficking to be classified under this violent 85% law. They give people with drug offenses way more time then someone who raped or murdered.
This needs to be put into effect immediately and be retroactive as well for the people already serving time. Oklahoma has been giving people way too much prison time which is the reason for overcrowding now
Sentencing needs to be exactly the same. From town to town on same charges. Right now 2 people in same situation can get same charges yet get 2 different sentences. 5yr for one and 20yr for the other. Both 85% crimes, no good behavior credit but because they live in different counties charges are different. Needs to change.
85% should be dropped down to 65% or at least acknowledge their behavior and let them earn good time. If they can show they are doing better and treated like people then they will have something to look forward to get out. The ones that are doing 85% doesn’t have the chance to get good time so there is no reason for them to want to be better they just wait for the time to get out by completing the 85% they can take classes but doesn’t help them in anyway I think it should count for something. The law really needs to change. People that are reoffending should have to do the entire 85% but first timers should be able to have a second chance to be able to better themselves.
It would make sense to make this proposal retroactive. Would free up beds and save the state money. What is the reasoning behind not making it retroactive? Wouldn’t seem fair for someone with the same charge to come in later and leave earlier. Stuff like that only causes anger and problems in the correctional centers.
It only make sense to make this proposal retroactive. The prison wouldn’t be so crowded and save the state money. That could be use for education. Between fixing the roads and locking people up why not spend money on education?? So we don’t have to keep locking people up. Why can it not be retroactive? It would no be fair for some people with the same charge to come in later and leave earlier!! This WILL cause so many problems in the facilities. If we spend more money on where it needs to go then maybe we would be better of as a community. LESS PRISON TIME MORE EDUCATION.
Crime with gun should be mandatory 20 years. Second offense should be life with parole. Third offense life without parole.
Really interesting post!
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