Public safety, sentencing reform not incompatible
October 13, 2021
Members of the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council want Oklahomans to think the only way to reduce the state prison population and its taxpayer expense is to let predators walk free. That’s verifiable nonsense that should be rejected.
One can be both pro-safety and pro-sentencing reform, and if current members of the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council do not agree, they should step down and let serious people take their place.
For the past three years the council has been tasked with recommending a new felony classification system with appropriate sentence lengths, appropriate enhanced sentences for crimes committed after a prior felony conviction, and other proposals. State law requires the council’s proposal to either reduce or hold neutral the prison population.
We at OCPA, along with other fiscal policy organizations, have long argued the state can do more with less spending when it comes to public safety. Oklahoma can incentivize people to change behavior—particularly those involved in nonviolent or certain drug crimes—through various alternative punishments that cost much less than lengthy prison incarceration. If we can spend less taxpayer money while producing increased public safety, we should.
But the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council took another approach. The group called for reducing sentences for some “85% crimes”—the most serious crimes for which people must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. For example, a person convicted of sexual abuse of a child under 12 currently faces a minimum sentence of 25 years and must serve 85% of that time.
But under the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council’s proposal, the same criminal would face a minimum sentence of just 10 years, and the offender would have to serve just 75% of that sentence. Many members of the council have fought against other reforms that didn’t reduce sentences for violent offenders. That this group now chooses to offer “reform” that benefits child abusers tells you all you need to know.
From 1997 to 2003 I worked in the Oklahoma City school system, and from 2003 to 2011 I worked in state government in various analysis positions. Throughout those years I often saw government officials intentionally commit what I call BSS—bureaucratic sabotage schemes—as many worthwhile initiatives were stymied internally by people who were supposed to champion those causes.
The actions of the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council may be the latest example.
Perhaps council members hoped serious reformers would give up if the council advocates for the early release of rapists. If so, they thought wrong.
We can reject idiotic ideas and still advocate for serious, pro-safety reform. The two are not incompatible. Oklahoma policymakers need to take a no-BSS (bureaucratic sabotage scheme) attitude when it comes to the Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council—and send them back to the drawing board.