Will Concerns About Domestic Violence Derail Sentencing Reform in Oklahoma?

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Better policing, stricter laws, longer prison terms: this has been the dominant approach to domestic violence in the United States for decades as lawyers tried to get the state to treat “private” violence as the urgent threat that it is. But when the costs of police violence and mass incarceration became clear, the criminal justice reformers worked in the opposite direction to reduce harsh convictions. Sometimes these efforts collide when domestic violence is used as a justification for opposition to criminal law reforms.

This is happening in Oklahoma now. In recent years, reformers of the criminal justice system have sought to change the identity of the state as “the prison capital of the world,” as the Prison Policy Initiative called it in a 2018 report. As of 2016, Oklahoma had the highest incarceration rate per capita in the United States, with 1,079 people in prisons, prisons, immigration detention centers, and youth facilities per 100,000 residents. Thanks to to organize Through a bipartisan coalition, the state recently reduced some sentences and streamlined the probation process, and the prison population has done so like. Still, drug abusers spend 78 percent more time behind bars in Oklahoma than the national average. People convicted of violent crimes spend 21 percent more time in prison.

Now voters are considering a constitutional amendment known as State Issue 805 that outlaws the enhancement of penalties for nonviolent crimes. Currently, someone convicted of a nonviolent crime such as drug possession or burglary can extend their sentence beyond the maximum sentence if they have previously been convicted. This is common: Almost 80 percent Oklahomans with earlier beliefs increased their sentences. Improvements allow prosecutors to search and distribute to judges 20- and 30 years in prison, even life imprisonment, for nonviolent crimes. Prosecutors are also using the threat of improvements to secure plea agreements. According to an independent analysis The change would reduce the prison population by around 8.5 percent by 2030 and save the state up to $ 186 million over the next 10 years – money that proponents say could be used for prevention and rehabilitation.

Domestic abuse has become a focus of the measure debate with opponents vocation the amendment “a tragedy for victims of domestic violence”. By May of this year, several domestic violence crimes in Oklahoma had been classified as “nonviolent” crimes. With SQ 805 using crime classifications as of January 1, 2020, its adoption would mean that some domestic violence convictions are ineligible for penalty enhancement. This puts victims at risk, according to victims, and “gives serial abusers the opportunity to continue their abusive behavior by not being held accountable for their repetitive and often increasingly violent behavior,” said a deputy district attorney wrote in a recent comment.

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