Reduced Sentences Trending in Oklahoma

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Oklahoma

Libertarians, in general terms, have long supported legalization and/or decriminalization of drugs, and there seems to be growing support in the American population for these ideas.

One example is the developments in the State of Oklahoma a very conservative State that, in the past, held strongly to sentiment of more severe punishment for all crimes, including criminal possession and distribution of drugs.

A Governor-appointed task force recently finished up its report on reducing prison populations in the state.

Oklahoma currently ranks second in the nation for incarceration rates, with a prison population at 109%, which is the highest in the country. With an additional 7,200 inmates expected in the next ten years (and a dramatically increasing budget deficit), Oklahoma is desperate to reduce its inmate population.

In November of 2016, two state questions were approved by voters: one which reduces possession of small amounts of drugs and stolen property to a misdemeanor, instead of a felony; and one which provides funding to mental health and drug addiction treatment services for minor offenders.

Efforts are underway from a small number of state legislators to overturn the decision of voters, but will likely fail. In addition to these measures, the task force, ordered [by Governor Mary Fallin] to find solutions to the incarceration rate, made its recommendations. They are also mostly leaning toward easing sentencing for small time drug offenders.

The task force believes that, if their recommendations are followed, the prison population can be reduced by 7% over the next ten years through a combination of measures that include: sentence reductions, and funding for additional mental health and drug addiction treatment.

Even this does not reduce the population enough, but it is certainly a start in the right direction.

The task force has recommended that sentencing for possession, with intent to distribute, of meth, crack, or heroin should be reduced to 0 – 5 years; down from 5 years to life for first time, non-violent offenders. Also, inmates are to become eligible for parole after serving just 1/4 of their sentence, rather than the current 1/3.

There have also been changes implemented at a more local level. In Oklahoma County (the most populated county in the state – and host to Oklahoma City), Commissioner Brian Maughan introduced the SHINE program in 2010. The program offers opportunities for voluntary work, but it is also a program which acts as alternative sentencing for small crimes: such as possession of drugs with intent to distribute, in cases where there are relatively small amounts of drugs being carried.

It is a community service program whereby community service can be served in lieu of jail or prison time; with many community projects targeted primarily at cleaning up the county and beautifying blighted areas.

The state’s other counties have been considering similar programs that work in conjunction with drug courts and offer alternatives to sentencing such as: mental health services and addiction treatment for those guilty of possession of illegal substances, or driving under the influence (DUI).

Oklahoma is justified in these efforts. Since 2010, 31 states have managed to decrease incarceration rates, while at the same time reducing crime rates. There has been a change in attitudes across the United States regarding smaller drug offenses that has been building over the past decade. With cannabis consumption legalized to various degrees in many states, prison populations (as well as crime rates in general) have been decreasing.

There have not only been a decrease in crimes related to drug possession but also in property crimes (on the order of 2% to 3.5%), as well as homicides (on the order of 12% to 19%) in the States that have implemented programs in reduced sentencing or decriminalization.

Going forward, it is likely the trend of reduced sentencing for small time drug offenders will continue, as will a wave of decriminalization. With so many States and local governments considering such measures to reduce incarceration rates in tremendously overcrowded prison populations, that are becoming unsustainable, it won’t be long before the Federal Government follows suit for the same reasons. It remains to be seen whether the current administration is supportive. But for now, it looks as though that it is not a priority.

However, it is very early, much too early to tell.

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Danny Chabino

Danny Chabino has a background in operating small businesses. He has been involved in managing and/or owning the operations of multiple retail establishments, a sub-prime lending company, a small insurance company, a small telemarketing venture, and insurance consulting. In addition to these activities, he also has spent many years managing investments in stocks and stock options as a successful trader. He is the married parent of two adult children, living as a proud lifelong Oklahoman and a part-time redneck. Danny writes for the enjoyment and pleasure of sharing ideas and for the love of writing itself. His opinions skew libertarian, but he enjoys hearing open debate and listening to or reading of opposing ideas. As an odd confession, he personally detests politics, but enjoys writing about political ideals and philosophies.

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