Oklahoma has a reputation as a law-and-order place. Criminals are locked up for lengthy periods, all at considerable expense to taxpayers.
But that attitude may be starting to thaw. A bill passed through the legislature this past week that expands community sentencing and the use of electronic monitoring prgrams as an alternative to incarceration.
It’s a legislative response to a rapidly expanding prison population and increasing costs. House Bill 2131 now rests with Gov. Mary Fallin who has been vocally supportive of the changes.
The state’s Corrections Department is routinely short-budgeted, meaning they have to come back to the Legislature to complete the fiscal year. This year, it will cost about $483 million to house and feed nearly 26,000 inmates.
More than half of the state’s inmates are in prison for non-violent offenses. Sadly, a good number of them involve drugs and alcohol offenses. Others committed offenses seeking drugs and alcohol or under the influence.
The new programs are expected to save the department $5 million or more per year.
House Speaker Kris Steele, the bill’s author, has long been a proponent of changing the system to give judges and prosecutors more latitude in sentencing.
One part of the bill would have radically altered sentencing guidelines was removed in the state Senate. A person convicted of two or more crimes at trial often has their sentences served in consecutive terms. The bill would have made sentences run concurrently unless a judge rules otherwise.
We believe House Bill 2131 is a step in the right direction for the state and encourage Gov. Fallin to endorse the bill.