FWD.us Statement on the Passage of HB1269 and the Urgent Need for Criminal Justice Reform

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — FWD.us Oklahoma State Director Shanna Gong issued the following statement on the passage of HB1269 and the urgent need for criminal justice reform:

“We applaud the Oklahoma legislature for passing HB1269 and urge Governor Stitt to sign this important reform and to implement it fully and without delay. In 2016, Oklahoma voters sent a strong pro-reform message when they voted to reclassify low-level felony drug and property crimes to misdemeanors making them ineligible for prison. Now, two and a half years later, the Oklahoma legislature has followed suit by providing an avenue for relief to the more than 1,000 individuals still serving prison sentences and struggling under the burden of old felony convictions for those same crimes.

”While the final version of HB1269 is not full “retroactivity” for State Question 780 (SQ780), since it does not allow all individuals with old SQ780 convictions to be resentenced, it will provide an expedited commutation and release process for almost a thousand people currently in prison, stop revocations back to prison for individuals serving time on supervision with SQ780 crimes, and give many thousands more in the community a chance to expunge their records. We applaud Rep. Jon Echols, Rep. Jason Dunnington, and Sen. Stephanie Bice for their leadership supporting this critical reform.

“Other urgently needed criminal justice reforms failed in this legislative session. In particular, SBs 616 and 618 and HBs 2218 and 2273 in their original forms would have transformed Oklahoma’s supervision systems to dramatically curb the practice of returning people to prison for petty supervision violations, HB2009 and HB1100 would have revised Oklahoma’s harsh and outdated sentencing enhancements and drug sentencing to help reduce Oklahoma’s extremely long prison sentences. These reforms had bipartisan support and strong champions in the legislature including Sen. Coleman, Sen. Jech, Rep. Mize, Rep. May, and Rep. Josh West. Together, they would have reduced Oklahoma’s prison population by 17 percent over the next ten years. None of them were allowed final votes.

“We are also disappointed that the Oklahoma House of Representatives failed to pass SB 252 by a narrow vote. SB 252 would have taken a first step in reforming Oklahoma’s bail system by limiting unnecessary and expensive pretrial detention for many people facing misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges, saving counties nearly $9 million per year. Despite receiving strong majority votes in the Senate and an earlier House vote, the bill was narrowly defeated after a campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation propagated by the powerful bail bonds industry in the final days before the vote.

“Polling, ballot votes, the media, and the rally cries from a diverse cross-section of community leaders all made clear that Oklahomans strongly support criminal justice reform. Unfortunately, the legislature failed to heed their call and failed to pass reforms that are urgently needed. We will continue to fight on behalf of Oklahoma communities and families who suffer every day under the burden of excessive and unfair punishments imposed by Oklahoma’s failed criminal justice system.”

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