Sunday, April 30, 2017

Oklahoma's Prison Masters

  Despite the efforts of the governor's Criminal Justice Task Force, Our Prison system is still exploding. Our convicted Oklahoma population is still growing at an alarming rate. We were at a record rate of 61,000 last November, but recently we exceeded 62k.

  A major  essay is published in today's Oklahoman. The journalist clearly makes the case to blame the legislature in general; and singles out Senate Judicial Committee Chairman, Anthony Sykes.
  Sykes has been angling to become our next Attorney General. That scheme seems thwarted by the appointment of Jeff Hunter to replace Scott Pruitt, who left to join the Trump Administration.
  Sykes has been clearly kowtowing to the law enforcement and prosecution lobby. He sees their endorsement as essential. But he also seems personally driven to punish, punish, punish.

​  Sykes has stood for some great conservative policies, but it would be foolish to characterize his current crusade as representing conservatism, as Oklahoman's define it.
  We've seen evidence of that during this session as members have approved amendments to weaken some of the bills produced by a governor's task force on criminal justice reform. Two years ago, members rejected a bill that would have let those serving time for 85 percent crimes to accrue good-behavior credits immediately upon entering prison, instead of having to wait until they have served at least 85 percent of the sentence. The bill was demonized as “soft on crime” and mischaracterized as an early release vehicle for violent offenders. - Oklahoman Editorial Board
   The voters of Oklahoma are more serious about criminal justice reform than the legislators are. Last November the voters clearly approved a set of state ballot questions which reclassified some nonviolent statutes as misdemeanors, instead of felonies. that caps the punishment at 12 months in the local jail, instead of potentially serving years in a far away prison.
  But some lawmakers have brazenly opposed the new law. One of them was Sen. Ralph Shortey. A personal scandal sidetracked Shortey. He resigned in disgrace recently, and awaits prosecution on several of his own felony charges.
  There have been heroes of justice reform in this legislature, as well. One such example is Rep. Bobby Cleveland, of Lexington. He and some co-authors proposed a reform wherein inmates showing exemplary personal conduct could begin accruing  early release points. Those points cannot be assigned until they've served 85% of their sentence. Cleveland wants to acknowledge these points early one, then apply them at the 85% mark of the incarceration. 
  But Sykes single-handedly killed that bill as well as many other reforms. Sykes chairs the Judicial Committee of the Senate. In that authority, he can simply refuse any bill and deny any discussion or vote on the measure. Sykes declared to Cleveland, in the hall of the capitol; 
"I ain't gunna do nothing that's soft on crime!" - Anthony Sykes
  And thus the 'tough guy' mindset continues to govern Oklahoma law since the early days of the Keating administration.  Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. And the US has the highest national rate in the developed world.  Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rates. 

  Our Sooner State punishes victim-less crimes and our taxpayers are forced to pay for the expense on incarceration. A first-time offense of unauthorized possession of a controlled drug carries a 5 year maximum sentence. To apply that punishment, the taxpayers must shell out all the legal and court costs of prosecution, then another $125,000 to house that individual. Ad there's the hidden cost of the affected family who may have lost a provider or caretaker. Foster care and welfare programs take a huge hit. A family gets broken up and children may grow up without a parent to guide them properly. Hence, the cycle repeats itself.

from Sooner - Editorial

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