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Could new bill help relieve overcrowding in Oklahoma prisons?

Posted at 6:43 PM, Apr 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-16 20:15:21-04

A new bill could help relieve overcrowding in Oklahoma prisons.

After voters approved medical marijuana, they also reclassified simple possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.

“While we were trying to be tough on crime we were really tough on families," State Senator Kevin Matthews said. "We had so many people who had committed non-violent offenses that were put in prison for something that is now legal.”

Under House Bill 1269, nonviolent offenders who committed the same offense within the last five years could also have their sentence dropped to a misdemeanor.

This could mean big news for D’Marria Monday, whose cousin would benefit from the bill.

“It would mean freedom now instead of waiting for him to come home," Monday said. "Too many people sit in prison for too long for non-violent offenses."

Monday also spent some time in prison and knows all too well how difficult it can be on a family.

"It was so hard," he said. "There was so many nights I spent crying into my pillow and I was thankful my mother had my child but you can’t really parent behind bars."

But some are worried about the bill passing.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler sits on the newly created criminal justice reclassification coordination council.

He said they are looking at multiple issues such as the classification of all felonies and changes that would improve the criminal justice system while ensuring public safety for citizens.

“We’ve just begun that important work," Kunzweiler said. "This is not something you can do in two or three months."

Kunzweiler is concerned that there’s no repercussion in dealing with small quantities of drugs.

“Sometimes you have to have some leverage over someone who has an addiction issue to get them to address their drug problems," he said. "When you start making all drugs misdemeanor crimes, what you end up doing is hurting the people who need to go into those particular programs.”

The bill now heads to the senate floor, awaiting approval.

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