Coleman supports sentencing reform

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital
Bill Coleman

As part of ongoing criminal justice reform, the Senate approved legislation April 25 to reduce incarceration rates of repeat nonviolent offenders. House Bill 2009, authored by Sen. Bill Coleman (R-Ponca City) and Rep. Garry Mize (R-Guthrie), is intended to reduce the sentences of repeat nonviolent offenders with no history of violent or sexual offenses.

“Right now in Oklahoma, offenders serve 70 percent longer for property crimes and 79 percent longer for drug crimes than the national average. Excessive sentencing for repeat nonviolent offenders has caused Oklahoma to have the highest incarceration rates in the nation, which is extremely expensive for taxpayers and does nothing to help these individuals re-enter society as self-sufficient, productive citizens,” Coleman said.

“Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana … they’ve all reduced crime and incarceration rates at the same time. I think it’s time for Oklahoma to do the same. Let’s get our growing prison population under control and make Oklahoma more in line with the rest of the country on sentencing for nonviolent offenders,” he added.

Currently, a second or subsequent offense of nonviolent crime carries as much as twice the original crime sentence. Under HB 2009, subsequent offenses will get no more than the maximum sentence plus an additional quarter of the maximum. For example, a 10-year sentence can currently become a 20-year sentence on repeat offenses. Under HB 2009, a 10-year sentence could only increase to a 12.5-year sentence for nonviolent second and subsequent offenses.

“I am happy to author House Bill 2009. Oklahomans are asking for strides to be made in regards to criminal justice reform,” Mize said. “This priority bill takes a step in the right direction to help get our prison population under control and move us out of the number one spot in a category we don’t want to lead.”

It is estimated that HB 2009 could reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by as much as 17 percent over 10 years, providing cost savings to the Department of Corrections (DOC) depending on how many individuals receive the reduced sentence. According to DOC, it costs an average of $58.70 per day or $21,425.50 per year to incarcerate an inmate.

HB 2009 was headed back to the House for final consideration.

Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, an interest group that advocates for changes in the criminal justice system, mentioned HB 2009 as one of five pieces of legislation that received strong support April 25 in the Oklahoma Legislature.

OCJR cited the following votes:

• HB 1269, making SQ 780 retroactive, passed the Senate 37-5

• HBs 2273 and 2218, improving supervision, which passed the Senate 44-0 and 43-0 respectively

• HB 2009, reforming sentence enhancements, passed the Senate 44-0

• HB 1100, preventing overcharging for drug possession, passed the Senate floor 39-2

• SB 252, ending pretrial detention and cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses, passed the House floor 70-23.