Mandatory Minimums

Oklahoma Governor Signs Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Reform Bill

Gives judges more leeway for alternatives in some situations.

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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law reforms that will allow judges some leeway and discretion from the state's many mandatory minimum sentences.

The state's Justice Safety Valve Act, HB 1518, will allow judges to give shorter sentences or divert some offenders to mental health or drug treatment programs for many nonviolent crime convictions if they deem it more helpful than prison.

Oklahoma has a very high incarceration rate, and more than 100 crimes with mandatory minimum sentences attached. The governor took note of the consequences when she signed the bill into law: "Violent criminals will continue to be incarcerated, but the fact is that one in 11 Oklahomans serve time in prison at some point in their lives."

Under the bill, judges would not be able to apply their discretion for violent crimes, sex crimes that would require offender registration, repeat crimes, or for crimes in which the defendant was a "leader of others in a continuing criminal enterprise."

But that's not the only criminal justice reform recently passed in Oklahoma. At the end of April the governor signed into law a bill that altered the state's occupational licensing rules to assist former offenders. Alas, HB 2168 doesn't eliminate occupational licensing in fields like architecture, cosmetology, surveying, athletic training, and several others. What it does do is allow the state to still license people in these fields who had been convicted of crimes, as long as said crimes are not connected to the fields in which they work. That's still a significant improvement.

Read more about the proposed federal version of the Justice Safety Valve Act, reintroduced in the latest Senate by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) here. The House companion legislation has been pushed forward by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.).