Governor applauds passage of criminal justice reform bills

Tuesday was a banner day for advocates of Oklahoma criminal justice reform as the state Senate passed eight separate bills that were written with the goal of lowering Oklahoma's high incarceration rate while preserving public safety.

"These historic votes will improve public safety in Oklahoma and save our state $1.9 billion," said Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, whose criminal justice reform task force recommended the bulk of the changes currently being considered by the Legislature.

"Making smart, data-driven decisions on how to increase safety while decreasing our overcapacity prisons is key to pursuing smaller, more efficient and more moral government," the governor said.

Oklahoma, which has the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation and the highest rate for women, is facing a prison crisis.

Oklahoma's state prison system is currently operating at 107 percent of capacity, with 26,507 inmates behind prison walls, 1,513 awaiting transfer from county jails and another 33,497 serving some form of probation.

Unless changes are made, the state will need to build three new prisons within the next 10 years, which would cost the state an additional $1.9 billion in capital expenditures and operating costs, experts have said. The timing couldn't be much worse, with the state facing an $878 million budget shortfall.

With those factors in mind, Oklahoma lawmakers drafted a dozen separate bills in an effort to enact laws that would implement a lengthy list of reforms recommended by the governor's task force. By late Tuesday afternoon, all 12 had obtained favorable votes in either the Senate or House and are now awaiting action by the other chamber.

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