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NEW LAW takes aim at state prison overcrowding

A new law aims to address three statistics in Oklahoma.

· One of the nation's highest incarceration rates.

· A 41% increase in corrections spending over the past decade.

· One of the nation's slowest falling crime rates.

Thus, despite large increases in spending, there seem to be meager benefits being had in the area public safety. To confront these numbers, Oklahoma lawmakers have decided to revisit prison reform with the passing of House Bill 2131. Passed and signed into law late 2011, the measure increases the numbers of those persons eligible for alternative sentencing.

Governor Mary Fallin says the new law stands in recognition that most Oklahoma offenders are not violent or evil but are the victims of substance abuse. The state has teamed up with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of the U.S. Justice Department, to research the next steps in this continuing reform process. The relatively smooth progression of this and related legislative endeavors underscores the bipartisan acknowledgment of the need to balance the state budget as well as lessen the current prison population.

Upon receipt of reports from the Justice Department and the Pew Research Center on the States, John Estus, spokesman for Speaker of the House Kris Steele, says that the state will begin investigating current sentencing policies and potential amendments. In preparation, the legislature has compiled a bipartisan investigatory task force made up of lawmakers, corrections officials and policy experts. House Speaker Steele says the continuing movement will hopefully build upon prison reforms passed more than a decade ago which reduced many then felonies to misdemeanors and explored alternatives to requiring the serving of full sentence periods.

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