New House Bill Hopes to Control Prison Growth in Oklahoma

OKALHOMA CITY — Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele will soon leave office, as he hits his limit on a 12-year legislative term — but he leaves behind a message to current lawmakers to continue his efforts at controlling prison growth.

Steele led a three-year effort to pass legislation intended to control prison growth and change how Oklahoma handles prison logistics. He helped push House Bill 3052, signed by Gov. Mary Fallin in May 2012. The bill will help establish a grant program to fund crime reduction initiatives by local law enforcement agencies and also requires at least nine months of post-release supervision of all felons.

“Increasing public safety is a top priority of my administration and a primary function of state government,” said Fallin.

The bill will not only create a safer community but it will also help save taxpayers money when it goes into effect Nov. 1, according to Fallin.

“In addition to lowering crime rates, reducing the incarceration rate and giving law enforcement more resources to fight crime, this bill will help us to save taxpayer dollars by helping our corrections system operate in a more efficient and effective way,” said Fallin.

The bill is expected to save $170 million in the next decade and provide $40 million to law enforcement agencies over a 10-year period to help pay for technology, overtime and targeting strategies including hot-spot policing that increases police presence in high-crime areas, which can help prevent and reduce crime, according to the bill.

“The bill achieved what we wanted and needed, and the state now has the opportunity to do even more in the future,” said Steele.

Although Steele is satisfied with the new bill — he had to eliminate a part of the bill that would have allowed inmates to receive good-time credits before 85 percent of their sentence was complete. The current law still stands, requiring inmates to serve 85 percent of their sentence before they are eligible to receive good-time credits.

“The achievements of the past three years have been significant, but they are no means the end of this issue. These policies must be sustained and expanded in the years to come, and I am confident they will be, given the strong stance policymakers have taken by enacting these critical reforms,” said Steele.

The bill will establish mental health and substance abuse assessments and evaluations for offenders before they are sentenced and develop intermediary revocation facilities for nonviolent offenders who violate drug court regulations or conditions of probation and parole, according to the bill.

The bill also seeks to purchase enhanced technology for crime prevention and criminal justice problem solving, according to the bill. Some of the new technology the state will have access to include crime-mapping software, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and smart phone tools.

“I’m honored to have been a part of it and will continue doing what I can to help advance the cause,” said Steele.