FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb. 18, 2021
Contact: Sheridan Betts
Study predicts $137 million in savings from Senate Bill 704
Compromise on sentencing reform would reduce Oklahoma’s prison population while protecting public safety
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Senate Bill 704, authored by Sen. David Rader, is projected to safely reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by almost 1,400 people over the next 10 years and save the state at least $137 million by eliminating sentence enhancements for people convicted of nonviolent offenses, according to a fiscal analysis by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
Oklahoma often applies sentence enhancements for low-level, nonviolent crimes, increasing prison time by years or decades, even up to life in prison. Prosecutors apply sentence enhancements in 80% of eligible cases. This increases prison time for people convicted of drug offenses, on average, by 61% (from 5.3 to 8.5 years) and for people convicted of property crimes by 47% (from 3.9 to 5.7 years). (These comparisons are based on people sent to prison for the same crimes and who had prior convictions, but who did not receive a sentence enhancement.) The overuse of sentence enhancements is a significant cause of Oklahoma’s unusually long prison sentences, which research has shown do not make communities safer.
“Limiting sentence enhancements does not limit the baseline maximum sentence someone can receive. It just stops district attorneys from enhancing a sentencing to 18 years in prison for forging a check, which is usually a two year maximum sentence, because of prior offenses that occurred almost a decade prior,” said Jonathan Small, President of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “We know there are better, evidence-based ways to spend taxpayer dollars more effectively and efficiently, and the state needs to be a better steward of those funds.”
If sentence enhancement reforms are not passed, Oklahoma’s prison population will grow to more than 25,428 in the next 10 years. This is not due to more Oklahomans committing crimes, but because of policies that allow Oklahomans to be incarcerated for longer sentences. SB 704 will reduce the prison population by 1,400 while still keeping communities safe.
The projected savings of $137 million from SB 704 could relieve budget pressure at the Department of Corrections, fund victim support services, and support programs that address the root causes of crime - helping to make Oklahoma communities safer.
“The Department of Corrections spends more than half a billion dollars every year,” said Trent England, David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “That’s more than the state spends on public safety and mental health combined, but if we continue on our present course, it’s not enough. Either Oklahoma taxpayers are going to spend a lot more on prisons, or we’re going to change course - and that starts by limiting our overuse of sentence enhancements.”