Tuesday, October 24, 2023

State House interim study examines restructuring criminal justice system

Humphrey Examines Restructuring Criminal Justice System

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, today held an interim study to detail his ideas on restructuring the state's entire criminal justice system.

IS23-025 was heard by the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, which Humphrey chairs.

"We believe the criminal justice system in Oklahoma is broken and that what we are doing as legislators is simply putting Band-aids on the system," Humphrey said. "This isn't going to work. We need a new system, one that actually changes criminal behavior and reduces our prison population while keeping our people safe."

During the three-hour-plus study, Humphrey – who said he has worked in nearly every job within the corrections system, from serving as an officer in corrections, law enforcement, probation, drug court and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) – laid out his proposal for improving the system.

Community corrections, or parole and probation, is one area where Humphrey said the system is fragmented and dysfunctional.

"We have DA supervision, we have DOC supervision, we have community sentencing, we have private," he said, "And we don't have anything across the state that links all of us together."

This is not the fault of people who work in the system currently , Humphrey said, but rather it's a problem 60 years in the making, partly because of various laws being cobbled together.

Humphrey gave the example of State Question 780. The intention behind the law is great, he said, to reduce incarceration by reducing from a felony to a misdemeanor certain drug and property crimes. But without adequate funding and with unintended consequences, the law has not worked as hoped, he said. Instead, the law decimated drug courts and community sentencing programs. With little to no supervision and no programs that change root behaviors, this has led to more crimes and less public safety, he said.

One solution Humphrey has suggested before is funding district attorneys so they don't have to come up with ways to fund themselves through fees and fines. He also wants to see greater offender accountability at lower levels before they are charged with a felony and get an extended sentence.

Better quality supervision options but ones that adhere to a statewide standard that needs to be established is another must. Restoring drug courts and community sentencing to pre-SQ780 levels would be another step in the right direction. Better training and funding that reaches the community level also are imperative, he said.

Humphrey said his proposal will greatly improve supervision and reduce criminal behavior as well as the state prison population. It will increase sanction alternatives so people who do not go to prison still have consequences to deter criminal behavior. The overall goal is to put Oklahoma in the top spot for community corrections, he said.

Humphrey gave examples of programs that have worked well in other states, such as Georgia, Texas and Arizona, to reduce crime and prison populations.

He also called in several speakers from Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Michael Olson and Damion Shade.

Olson spoke about the need for community supervision that prioritizes public safety and actually focuses on the offenders that need the most oversight. He said his group tries to craft evidence-based policies that ensure the criminal justice system is working for all Oklahomans. Taxpayers want true public safety not programs that don't work.

He said over one-third of the Department of Corrections population is being supervised through probation in our communities right now. The state has more women on probation than the national average. In fact, Oklahoma is near the top of the country in this category, he said. We're lower than the national average for black individuals on probation, he said, even while the incarceration rate for black Oklahomans is higher than the national average. This is an indicator that this population is not getting probation at the same rate as other populations, he said.

Oklahoma's supervision sentences are much longer than the national average – the fourth longest in the nation, he said, a statistic that has increased over 30% since 2000. But this doesn't actually enhance public safety, he said. Instead, it just means someone on probation will more likely be re-incarcerated because of a technical violation.

Humphrey said he's hoping to receive feedback from his study from the people who are actually involved in the criminal justice system from district attorneys to judges to people in the state correction's and public safety systems. This is an issue on which he will keep working.

Justin Humphrey serves District 19 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. His district includes Choctaw and Pushmataha counties and parts of Atoka and Bryan counties.


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