OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday discussed implementation of a recently passed criminal justice reform measure.
Lawmakers passed and Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1269, which takes effect Nov. 1.
The measure would make the provisions of State Question 780 retroactive.
Passed by voters in 2016, SQ 780 downgraded several nonviolent offenses from felonies to misdemeanors and reduced the associated sentences.
It also increased the property amount to $1,000 from $500 for a felony.
The new law would immediately affect 623 offenders, said Justin Wolf, Pardon and Parole Board general counsel.
“There is no reason for those 623 to wait any longer than November or December to be released,” said John Estus, chief of staff for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, which worked to pass SQ 780. “Plenty of work can be done ahead of the Nov. 1 effective date to make sure those people are swiftly released.
“Every day they stay in, there is a cost to taxpayers.”
Estus’ remarks were made after the meeting.
The new law would affect another 338 offenders who had a simple drug possession charge plus another crime by shortening the length of the overall sentence, Wolf said.
A third category of offender has a simple possession crime but another conviction that would not affect when they are released, he said. The third category involves 1,171 offenders, Wolf said.
Another challenge is determining which offenders will be affected by increasing the felony property crime threshold to $1,000 from $500, Wolf said.
The board will have to pass emergency administrative rules to implement the measure, Wolf said.
In other action, the Pardon and Parole Board was told that a second commutation docket was in the works.
Backed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and its partners, the board can expect to see another round of applications focusing on drug sentences, veterans, the aging population and those convicted of failure to protect a child from abuse or neglect.
Estus said there are cases where a person is serving a longer sentence for failure to protect than the individual who actually was convicted of the abuse.
Tulsa County Public Defender Corbin Brewster said the veterans’ community has a lot of resources to assist with re-entry.
His office, the University of Tulsa College of Law, and Family & Children’s Services, a Tulsa-based nonprofit, are working on the project with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
“Every person we bring you will have a re-entry plan,” said Stephanie Horten, a women’s justice advocate for Family & Children’s Services.
It will also focus on those incarcerated for supervision violations, but not new crimes and crimes tied to poverty, Estus said.
The coalition last year secured the commutation of 30 offenders from former Gov. Mary Fallin.
This year the coalition will be filing hundreds of applications, but no more than 500, Estus said.
Pardon and Parole Board member C. Allen McCall called it a good program worth the board’s time.
“We want to send good cases to the governor,” McCall said.
Oklahoma for years has led the nation in incarceration rates.
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