Oklahoma Law Releases Nonviolent Offenders Beginning Nov. 1

A new Oklahoma law taking effect November 1, 2011, will alleviate prison overcrowding and address the number of low risk, nonviolent offenders incarcerated in the state.  The law will allow certain nonviolent offenders to complete their sentencing outside of jail or prison, using ankle monitoring.  

According to Oklahoma Department of Corrections officers, up to 300 inmates could be released beginning November 1 as a result of the new law.  Though some prosecutors known for taking a hard, inflexible stand are critical of the new law, many defense attorneys see the new law as a just maneuver to allow their nonviolent clients to serve an acceptable sentence.

Low Risk Criminals

Many of those impacted by the new law are low-risk female inmates, many of whom were convicted of drug crimes and were sentenced under some of the toughest drug laws and drug sentencing penalties in the nation.  Under the new law, these people will be released into an ankle monitoring program, freeing up prison space and resources for violent offenders and others who may be considered a threat to public safety.  

According to one proponent of the law, House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, the goal of the law is not just to address prison overcrowding, but to promote public safety by allowing Corrections resources to focus on high-risk, violent offenders. The new law changes how prison sentences will be served by those convicted of certain nonviolent offenses.  Previously, inmates were not eligible for release into an ankle monitoring program until all but 11 months of the sentence was served behind bars.  

Under the new law, many of those convicted of nonviolent offenses and sentenced to less than five years will be eligible for ankle monitoring and release after only 90 days.  Some prosecutors argue that they will now push for sentences of only five years or greater to circumvent the early release; such adaptation makes it even more critical that defendants hire an aggressive, experienced Oklahoma criminal lawyer to help combat prosecutors' attempts to strengthen sentencing to get around the new law.

According to corrections officers and proponents of the law, not every inmate will be eligible after 90 days of incarceration, and that most will serve longer sentences.  Other circumstances are considered as well.  Originally, over one thousand inmates were considered for early release into the ankle monitoring program, but the list has now been whittled to just a few hundred.  

Targeting Non-Violent Criminals

Among considerations is whether or not an inmate has a stable residence to return to. Nonviolent offenses which may be eligible for the program include embezzlement and other white collar crimes, DUI, burglary, theft, and drug crimes.  According to Corrections Department Director Justin Jones, ankle monitoring has a success rate of 90 percent for women in the program and 86 percent for men.

GPS ankle monitoring is not new, but it is going to be expanded under the new law, alleviating prison crowding, directing Corrections resources to threats to public safety, and allowing successful re-entry to society for low-risk offenders convicted of nonviolent crime.

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