It’s been more than four years since Oklahoma lawmakers partially repealed the state’s draconian three strikes law that sent people to prison for life for having three drug-related convictions. But has the law made a dent in criminal justice reform?
In the years following the partial repeal, Oklahoma has surpassed Louisiana as the “prison capital of the world,” and it doesn’t look like it’s a title Oklahoma will lose anytime soon.
As Mother Jones reports, the number of state prisoners in Oklahoma is expected to grow by 14 percent over the next 10 years. And despite the repeal of the three strikes drug law in 2015, you can still be sent to prison for life if you have three drug-trafficking felonies in Oklahoma.
In the year or so since Oklahoma earned its new rank as the global incarceration capital, high-ranking officials, including the governor and the state’s chief of prisons, have called for sentencing reform to reduce the prison population.
The Legislature, however, wrapped up its 2019 session with only one new criminal justice bill that will decrease the prison population. The law allows some low-level drug offenders to be released from prison and have their records cleared. It’s a move could free up to 1,000 inmates, in a state that locks up 1,079 people for every 100,000 Oklahomans.
There was a package of criminal justice reform bills that had bipartisan support, but those measures were derailed by the law enforcement and bail bond lobbies, both of which oppose prison reform.
According to the ACLU, roughly one out of every five prisoners in Oklahoma was serving time for drug possession as of 2015. Many of those offenders serve their sentences in private prisons that the state relies on heavily due to overcrowding.
“Many more Oklahomans held onto a chance they too would be able to access a more just criminal legal system only to watch their legislature fall short,” ACLU Oklahoma policy and advocacy director Nicole McAfee said in response to the “Oklahomans are, again, forced to wait another year for the chance to adopt these and other meaningful reforms.”
Will next year be the year that Oklahoma makes worthwhile progress in reducing the prison population? Or will lawmakers remain complacent and allow the Sooner State to remain the prison capital of the world? Only time will tell, and in that time, thousands will remain behind bars, and thousands more will end up there.
Lawmakers may be complacent, but defense attorneys like Jacqui Ford are not. Everyone deserves the best legal defense possible. If you or someone you love has been accused of a drug crime in Oklahoma, contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.