Bill to cut prisoner ranks gets Senate OK
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, April 21, 2011
4/21/11 at 8:17 AM
See extensive coverage of the issue of women in prison by the Tulsa World, The Oklahoman and Oklahoma Watch, an independent, nonprofit investigative reporting team.
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure designed to reduce the prison's population, despite concerns a key provision of the bill had been taken out.
House Bill 2131, by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, now heads to the House after securing passage in the Senate by a vote of 44 to 3.
The measure would expand community sentencing and electronic monitoring.
Community sentencing costs about $3.50 per day while electronic monitoring costs about $4.75 a day. The cost to house an offender at minimum security is about $38 a day.
"If we can increase the use of community-based services for nonviolent offenders and place a greater focus on treatment and prevention, the crime rates in our state could be reduced," Steele said.
Under the measure, nonviolent offenders would be deemed approved for parole if the governor didn't act on the Pardon and Parole Board's action within 30 days. The measure does not remove the governor from the parole process.
It also would set minimum standards for Pardon and Parole Board members. Under the measure, a member would have to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in social science or at least 10 years in criminal justice, law or counseling.
However, a key provision that would have dramatically reduced an inmate's length of time behind bars was removed after some prosecutors voiced concern.
The original measure would have made offenders convicted of two or more crimes in the same proceeding serve the sentences at the same time, or concurrently, unless a judge ordered otherwise.
Currently, in absence of an order from the court, offenders with more than one sentence serve the sentences back to back, or consecutively.
Sen. Richard Leblance, D-Hartshorne, said the removal of the language guts the bill. Leblance said he hoped Steele would restore the language when the measure returns to the House.
"It is a golden opportunity to allow the Department of Corrections reduce some of its costs," Leblance said.
"We did not oppose the bill," said Trent Baggett, District Attorneys Council assistant executive coordinator.
He said he was unaware of which prosecutors may have opposed the measure.
Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones said he appreciates the efforts of Steele and others to insert best practices into a bill that affects the agency.
Because the bill did not have an emergency clause, it would not take effect until Nov. 1.
Jones said the agency will see marginal savings in the next six to seven months. Full savings will be realized in about 18 months.
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465