Some work to make SQ 780 retroac­tive

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - BY DARLA SLIPKE Staff Writer [email protected]

When grant­ing com­mu­ta­tions to 21 non­vi­o­lent of­fend­ers Wed­nes­day, Gov. Mary Fallin said there are still about 1,000 peo­ple in Ok­la­homa prisons for low-level drug of­fenses who wouldn’t be there to­day if State Ques­tion 780 had been in place.

“They were sent to pri­son be­fore the law changed, and they will be there un­less some type of ac­tion is taken,” she said.

There ap­pears to be some mo­men­tum from state law­mak­ers and oth­ers to try

to make the law retroac­tive dur­ing the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Ap­proved by vot­ers in 2016, State Ques­tion 780 made cer­tain drug and prop­erty crimes mis­de­meanors in­stead of felonies, but the law didn’t ap­ply retroac­tively. The max­i­mum penalty now for sim­ple drug pos­ses­sion is one year in county jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rep. Ja­son Dun­ning­ton, D-Ok­la­homa City, said he and House Ma­jor­ity Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Ok­la­homa City, plan to file a bill that would make State Ques­tions 780 and 781 retroac­tive.

Ok­la­homans have “spo­ken very clearly” that they’d like law­mak­ers to find reme­dies “that make sense and that aren’t just puni­tive to be puni­tive,” Dun­ning­ton said. He said crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form wasn’t a par­ti­san is­sue.

“We need to con­tinue the mo­men­tum for­ward and make sure that we’re do­ing this in a smart way that con­tin­ues to pro­vide pub­lic safety but also in a com­pas­sion­ate way that un­der­stands that our state and many of our in­mates have ad­dic­tion is­sues that we can solve on the out­side of pri­son,” Dun­ning­ton said.

The com­mu­ta­tions Fallin ap­proved this week were for of­fend­ers who were serv­ing 10 years or more for crimes that now carry ei­ther no pri­son time or sig­nif­i­cantly less pri­son time un­der re­cent re­forms ap­proved by vot­ers or law­mak­ers.

Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, praised Fallin for com­mut­ing those sen­tences and said he looks for­ward to work­ing next leg­isla­tive ses­sion to en­sure that all Ok­la­homans serv­ing “ex­ces­sive and un­just sen­tences” for sim­ple drug pos­ses­sion are re­sen­tenced un­der cur­rent law.

Peo­ple want smart, com­mon-sense re­form, West said.

“The pub­lic re­al­izes that we do have an in­car­cer­a­tion prob­lem, and they spoke loud and clear with 780,” he said. “They want some re­form, and I think that it’s smart bud­get-wise to look at sav­ing tax­pay­ers money.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Ok­la­homans for Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form, a bi­par­ti­san coali­tion that led a com­mu­ta­tion cam­paign to help the 21 in­di­vid­u­als whose sen­tences were re­duced this week, hope the cam­paign will be part of a larger con­ver­sa­tion about mak­ing State Ques­tion 780 and other re­forms retroac­tive.

“The re­search is pretty clear that ad­dress­ing is­sues of ad­dic­tion and men­tal ill­ness through treat­ment rather than ex­ces­sive pun­ish­ment is much more ef­fec­tive in mod­i­fy­ing be­hav­ior,” Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Kris Steele said. “And it also is much more cost-ef­fi­cient.”

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