Oklahoma criminal defense attorneys fight to ensure a fair trial for their clients and to gain the optimum outcome to every case. In cases where a criminal charge cannot be dismissed, an acquittal is unlikely, or a defendant is convicted, criminal lawyers negotiate to receive a just sentence that favors rehabilitation over punishment and that is congruent with the severity of the crime, not excessively harsh.
Oklahoma's Stance on Crime
In a state notorious for its tough stance on crime, criminal lawyers in Oklahoma have struggled against a system that intends to send a clear message that crime will not be tolerated. However, this punitive system of prosecution has begun to catch up with the state through severely overcrowded prisons and reduced staff in the face of legislative budget cuts.
Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the nation: the state ranks fifth in incarceration of men, and it has lead the nation for 14 of the last 15 years in the incarceration of women. The state holds more than 26,600 prison inmates, and the cost of housing each inmate is approximately $40/day--for a total cost of over a million dollars each day.
In addition to the economic impact of housing these inmates, taxpayers bear the burden of caring for the 7,000 children left behind by mothers in prison. Of the more than 2,700 women in prison in Oklahoma, 65% are behind bars for nonviolent offenses. A surge of 9,000 inmates over the last several years has led to prisons across the state being at over 96% bed capacity.
Minimum security prisons are over 98% capacity, and medium security prisons exceed 99% capacity. Over the past 15 years, the cost of operating the Oklahoma prison system has nearly quadrupled, increasing from $118 million to $450 million annually. One driving force between the increase in the demands on the state's prison system was the introduction of truth in sentencing guidelines in 1997.
Also known as "The Eighty-Five Percent Rule," these guidelines require those convicted of certain Oklahoma criminal offenses be required to serve at least 85% of their prison term before becoming eligible for parole or early release. Originally in place for 11 criminal offenses, the list of Oklahoma crimes covered by the 85% Rule has grown to include 20 criminal offenses:
- First degree murder
- Second degree murder
- First degree manslaughter
- Poisoning with intent to kill
- Shooting with intent to kill, use of a vehicle to facilitate use of a firearm, crossbow or other weapon, assault, battery, or assault and battery with a deadly weapon or by other means likely to produce death or great bodily harm
- Assault with intent to kill
- Conjoint robbery
- Robbery with a dangerous weapon
- First degree robbery
- First degree rape
- First degree arson
- First degree burglary
- Any crime against a child provided for in Section 7115 of Title 10 of the Oklahoma Statutes;
- Forcible sodomy
- Child pornography
- Child prostitution
- Lewd molestation of a child
- Nursing home abuse
- Aggravated trafficking
Attempts to Alleviate Prison Overcrowding
To alleviate overcrowding in the state's prison, to provide just legal consequences for nonviolent offenses, and to encourage rehabilitation, criminal defense lawyers in Oklahoma City and across the state are encouraging alternative sentencing that will allow nonviolent offenders to serve deferred or suspended sentences or to complete Intensive Supervision Probation (ISP) programs.
Currently HB 2131 is awaiting vote in the Oklahoma Senate. This penal reform bill would attempt to save nearly $10 million annually by removing current restrictions and allowing community sentencing options for more offenders.
This story is part one of a two-part look at alternative sentencing in Oklahoma, establishing the necessity for sentencing alternatives to reduce prison overcrowding. In our next Oklahoma Criminal Defense blog post, we will examine the community sentencing programs and other alternative sentencing programs available in Oklahoma.