Manhattan Institute researchers: In reforming Oklahoma criminal justice, don’t forget overcriminalization

By James R. Copland and Rafael A. Mangual

On Feb. 2, the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, created by Gov. Mary Fallin to perform “a comprehensive review of Oklahoma's criminal justice system,” released its recommendations. The task force proposed many good ideas about how to reduce corrections costs while maintaining public safety, but one important criminal justice issue was conspicuously absent: what we and other analysts have dubbed “overcriminalization.”

Overcriminalization refers to the exploding number of crimes covering conduct that is not intuitively wrong. Because such crimes often lack traditional criminal-intent requirements — and because the sprawling criminal laws are all but unnavigable — overcriminalization places ordinary citizens, small-business owners, and family farmers in jeopardy of being hauled off in handcuffs for conduct they sincerely believed was lawful.

Oklahoma's vast criminal code contains more than 1,200 sections, significantly more than any of its neighboring states. And looking at the code would give an Oklahoman only a very partial picture of what's illegal: 91 percent of the new crimes created by the Legislature since 2010 are codified outside the criminal code.

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