Ryan Gentlzer

Oklahoma Policy Institute

To the editor:

The Jan. 7 article on the recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council incorrectly states that the proposed felony class system could reduce the prison population – in fact, it would increase the prison population, something Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly do not support. It is crucial to base reforms to Oklahoma’s justice system on evidence.

Criminal justice reform groups, including Open Justice Oklahoma (a program of the Oklahoma Policy Institute) and Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, use real data to understand why people go to prison and how long they serve. The system proposed by the Council would reduce time-served requirements for some first-time offenses – those currently known as “85% crimes” – which would save prison beds. However, the council also recommends adding new time-served requirements for some lower level crimes that currently do not have minimums.

The additional months in prison this larger group would have to serve under the recommendations more than cancel out the savings, without any benefit to the public, as evidence shows that longer time spent in prison does not increase public safety.

This is not what Oklahomans want – 83% of Oklahoma voters support reducing the prison and jail population. It’s also not what the Reclassification Coordination Council was set up to do. The Council was mandated to “hold neutral or reduce the prison population.”

If implemented, these sentencing recommendations would fail to fulfill that mandate.

While we support other recommendations in the Council’s report, including an increase to desperately needed mental health funding, Oklahoma deserves a reform package that does not double down on the failed policies of the past. We hope the Legislature embraces the positive steps in reform recently enacted by voters and supports greater investments in substance abuse and mental health services, but rejects any changes that are “reform” in name only.

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