The Path Not Taken in Oklahoma Sentencing Reform
Jim Campbell had a fascinating story in the Tulsa World this week about a set of bipartisan legislative proposals in the 1990s that could have brought Oklahoma’s prison system back from the “tough-on-crime” brink — only to meet with resistance:
Richard Kirby, [Gov. Frank] Keating’s legal adviser and delegate to the legislative panel, said the governor initially “had a lot of hope for it.”
“Then he was beginning to hear concerns from the law enforcement community about certain aspects of it,” said Kirby, now an Oklahoma County associate district judge. “One thing I heard was that the matrix required nine felony convictions before any time in prison. I think the matrix was a problem for a lot of people. The DAs were not brought in for the first part.”
The article is well worth reading in full — some of the story will be familiar (like high-profile crimes spurring bad policy reactions), and of course you’ll have to read between the lines of the quotes offered by self-serving politicians, but Campbell provides a detailed account of the interplay between federal judicial oversight, legislative incentives, the district attorneys’ lobby, and other political factors that make Oklahoma an illuminating case study. The piece is part of the ongoing Oklahoma Watch project on the state’s highest-in-the-nation female incarceration rate, which you can learn more about here.
UPDATE: Aaand it looks like this history could be repeating itself in Indiana.