Criminal Justice

SB 704 analysis shows cost savings for Oklahoma taxpayers

February 17, 2021

Ryan Haynie

Criminal laws typically provide a sentencing range. In Oklahoma, a separate law allows prison sentences far longer than the standard range for many crimes—sometimes up to life in prison—if a person has prior convictions.

Senate Bill 704 would limit these “sentence enhancements” to certain crimes. Repeat offenders could still be sentenced to a prison term at the top of the range for their crime, and the Legislature could increase the range for particular crimes.

Using a sample of records from criminal convictions, OCPA looked at how frequently prosecutors use sentence enhancements. Rather than being limited to only the most serious cases, the truth is that sentence enhancements are used in four out of five cases where they are available. This leads to prison sentences that are 36 percent longer, on average, than without the enhancement. And even without the enhancement, Oklahoma’s average prison sentence is nearly five years.

Because this sentencing enhancement is overused, and adds years to prison sentences for nonviolent offenders, SB 704 would yield significant savings. People would still go to prison, but the punishment would fit the crime.

Our analysis projects that SB 704 will reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by 1,400 people over 10 years. This would save $137 million over that period. And once fully implemented, SB 704 could continue to save taxpayers $26 million per year after the initial 10 years.

Unlike State Question 805, SB 704 excludes domestic abuse offenses, animal cruelty, all offenses requiring sex offender registration (805 exempted almost all already), and DUI resulting in great bodily injury. As a result, SB 704’s impact is about 6.3% less than SQ 805—keeping most of the benefits while ditching all the baggage (including not changing the state constitution). It’s the reform that critics of SQ 805 asked for.