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Bills could shorten non-violent sentences

Posted at 4:44 PM, Mar 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-08 19:15:36-05

On Monday a series of bills targeting Oklahoma's criminal justice system passed through the state House of Representatives. 

Many of the changes the bills would make mirror requests made by Governor Mary Fallin during her State of the State address in January. The changes would relieve overcrowding in the state's prisons and also attempt to deal with Oklahoma's $1.3 billion budget shortfall.

House Bill 2472 would give district attorneys the power to file misdemeanor charges instead of felony charges for many non-violent crimes where the offender is not required by law to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. Representatives passed the bill with a 63-27 vote Monday. 

"We want to see offenders that need to be off the streets, go to prison," District Attorney Matt Ballard said. He represents Craig, Mayes and Rogers counties. "At the same time, we need to recognize that not everyone that commits a crime needs to and I think we have realized that."

With a 76 to 15 vote, House Bill 2479 also passed yesterday. It would limit prison time for some drug possession charges from a mandatory 2 to 10 years, to no more than 5 years. 

Right now in Oklahoma, property crimes can be charged as a felony if the damages total $500. Representatives passed House Bill 2751 with a 80 to 8 vote. It would require the damages to total at least $1,000 prosecutors to file felony charges. 

At She Brews Coffee House in Claremore, you can get a latte, while much of the staff is receiving a second chance. It is the reason the owner said she supports House Bill 2753, which would increase Oklahoma's drug court system.

Representatives voted 90-0 Monday to send the bill to the Senate. 

Jodey Kelly recently began working at She Brews and is learning to work as a barista making lattes. 

"I'm big on the iced drinks, but these are awesome, too," she said as she made a hot latte Tuesday afternoon.

Kelly is staying out of prison after she was arrested in 2014 and served several months for felony drug charges.

She pled guilty and was released after she began working through a drug court in Rogers County. 

"It gives people a chance, because the drug court, you can't fake it," Kelly said. "You just can't. There are too many ways you're held accountable."

Drug court is designed to save the state money, by keeping non-violent offenders out of prison. It places them in court-supervised treatment programs.

Rhonda Bear employs Kelly and more than a dozen other woman at She Brews. Many of Bear's employees are in drug court programs, so she sees the benefits. 

"By keeping people in the communities, not break up the family. Not sending children to foster care, when mom goes off to prison," Bear said. "Which the domino cost of that is extreme."

Ballard said he supports HB 2753. In Rogers County more than 100 people are currently being assisted by the county's drug court system. 

"We have been able to utilize that to give offenders help, that need help," Ballard said. "While making sure that they follow through with the programs. I would love to see that expanded. We just need the funds to be able to do that."

Kelly hopes other women get the opportunity she is receiving as she said drug court is helping her turn her life around.

"It forces you to change and once you get through that rough patch then you want to change. So I really think that would be excellent if they offered it to more people," Kelly said. 

All four criminal justice reform bills are now headed to the state senate for consideration.

To read the bills, just click on the links below.

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