Tulsa, OK Criminal Defense & Family Law Blog

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Oklahoma Bill to Begin Criminal Justice Reform by Reducing State Sentencing Mandates

Is it safe to reduce mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes?

During this election year, criminal justice reform is a big issue. Candidates from both parties agree that major changes have to be made in law enforcement and incarceration practices in this country. As always, the pressing question is -- Where do we start?

The Proposed Bill to Redefine Some Property Crimes

Gov. Mary Fallin may have the right idea. She is backing a bill that would set a higher monetary bar for some property crimes to be prosecuted as felonies and it was overwhelmingly approved by a legislative committee a couple of weeks ago. Without debate, the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee passed the measure 8 to 1 and it will now proceed to the full House for consideration.


Though there are those who fear that lessening penalties for crime in any way puts us on the road to increasing crime rates, Rep. Pam Peterson (R-Tulsa), chair of the Justice and Corrections Committee, defends the bill, saying "We were tough on crime for some many years. We want to get smart on crime."


In addition to other measures, the proposed bill raises the threshold for a felony charge for property embezzlement from $500 to $1,000. It is one of several proposals designed to help reduce the disturbing overcrowding that presently exists in the state prison system.   

Oklahoma's Rate of Incarceration

According to records provided by the state Department of Corrections, Oklahoma's prisons are presently filled beyond operating capacity at 112 percent. A total of 28,119 inmates in the state give Oklahoma the highest incarceration rate for women and the second highest incarceration rate for men in the nation. Not only is this a social justice problem, it is a financial one for the state of Oklahoma where lawmakers expect a projected shortfall of at least $900 million in the upcoming budget.

Goals of Reducing Mandatory Sentencing

Far from making the state of Oklahoma a more dangerous place, Peterson, Gov. Fallin, and Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater agree that the proposed changes bring Oklahoma more in line with at least 30 other states that have increased their thresholds in recent years without experiencing any increase in property crimes.

Twenty states currently have $1,000 thresholds for felony property crimes and at least 30 states have increased their thresholds in recent years, all without experiencing a higher rate of property crimes, she said. The threshold in Texas is $2,500.


The goal of lowering the mandated prison sentences for some property crimes is multifold:

  • Prisons become less overcrowded
  • Less money is spent on housing and feeding petty criminals
  • Offenders are guided into treatment programs and away from prison

Since offenders are more likely to emerge as better citizens from treatment programs and more likely to be released from prison sentences as confirmed criminals, the proposal will, hopefully, make Oklahoma a safer state in which to reside.

While the state of Oklahoma seems to be moving in the right direction in terms of prison reform, no one wants to be incarcerated. If you have been charged with a crime, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney promptly so that your rights will be vigorously defended. 

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