Some push to apply Oklahoma sentencing reform retroactively
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Some Oklahoma lawmakers want to discuss the potential of retroactively applying a 2017 drug sentencing reform law to earlier felony convictions.
A statewide ballot initiative that reduced the crime of drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor became a law last year. The law is meant to help stabilize and eventually reduce the number of people going to prison, while focusing the state’s efforts on addiction treatment and rehabilitation.
But the law doesn’t apply retroactively to preceding felony convictions in the drug trade, a point of conflict among criminal justice reformers, district attorneys, lawmakers and incarcerated people, The Oklahoman reported .
Lawmakers should look at retroactive sentencing and enhanced monitoring programs, said Republican Rep. Jon Echols, the House majority floor leader.
“I would have a great deal of interest and would be willing to work on sentencing reform for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders,” said Echols of Oklahoma City. “The people have told us they would like some form of that to take place.”
Chad Mullen is sentenced to serve about nine more years in prison on drug possession cases from 2013 and 2016. The 26-year-old said people like him should get the opportunity for early release if lawmakers are serious about criminal justice reform.
“Here I am, Chad Mullen with 2,600 days left on a 10-year sentence for an addiction,” he wrote to the newspaper. “I need help. I am ready for recovery.”
Oklahoma’s district attorneys must follow the law, said Kevin Buchanan, president of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council.
“I know people sometimes feel like that sounds unfair that on June 30 of last year, someone had a drug possession charge and on July 1 they had a drug possession charge, and one’s a felony and one’s a misdemeanor,” he said. “But the bottom line is as citizens, we’re all charged with knowing what’s right and knowing what’s wrong.”
Oklahoma’s growing prison population has become a fiscal and humanitarian problem, according to Echols. The Department of Corrections asked for a $1 billion budget increase this year, partly to help build two new prisons. Lawmakers denied the request, but they may examine a bond issue next year.
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com