Best Criminal Lawyers in Oklahoma
Oklahoma City Criminal Lawyers Must Know This
Oklahoma is Changing its Approach to Low-Level Drug Offenses
Efforts to move away from mandatory prison sentences, especially as affecting non-violent offenders such as those incarcerated for low-level drug offenses, are gaining momentum.
Mayor Fallin Advocates for a Change in Policies
In September, Republican Governor Mary Fallin spoke on the topic, stating, “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s about people [with] addiction or mental health issues who are not criminals and need a little extra help.”
Fallin supports reforms in Oklahoma sentencing laws that would divert those with a drug use problem away from prisons and into programs, such as those that have already been put in place in other states, to help those individuals get away from, and stay away from, drug use.
Fallin pointed out that there are others hurt by the imprisonment of those struggling with a drug use problem – notably their families, including children. Oklahoma has the nation’s highest percentage of women behind bars, with that rate expected to rise significantly over the next 10 years if current laws and policies remain unchanged.
Many state policymakers are in line with Fallin’s thinking, as 2016 saw two major legal changes affecting those with relatively minor convictions, drug dependency, and mental health issues.
One of these measures was making simple drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Another measure was to increase funding of drug treatment and mental health programs, with the goal of helping individuals deal with these issues and in turn, stay out of prison.
Diversion programs targeting those with drug problems have already proven successful. Women in Recovery, a program run in Tulsa County, has helped many women stay out of prison by providing them rehabilitation, classes in gaining life skills, and assistance with employment difficulties.
The 1980s saw a trend toward policies attempting to deal with drug use through tough sentencing, even for relatively minor offenses. The result has been the incarceration, including in Oklahoma, of many people who are not a serious threat to society.
Decades of data and the stories of real life people have led to a re-thinking on the matter. The goal of smart laws, rather than merely tough laws, is gaining adherents. Re-thinking drug dependency as being more of a health issue than simply a drug issue is becoming more accepted. Society’s most vulnerable, such as those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, those struggling with mental health issues, and minorities, are disproportionately hurt by tough drug use sentencing laws.
The New Jersey Example
The state of New Jersey has been on the cutting edge of innovative policies aimed to keep people who are not a threat to society out of prison. Drug courts have been instituted as part of a strategy to reduce the state’s prison population, along with other tactics such as parole policy revisions that have kept many from returning to prison for minor parole violations. The stated mission of New Jersey’s drug courts are to “stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity.”
New Jersey’s example is that of a state that has undergone a major philosophical change, with an eye toward keeping individuals who are not a threat to society, and who have committed minor offenses, out of prison whenever possible. This has the advantage of minimizing the negative impact on those individuals’ loved ones, who are hurt when a family member is sent off to do time. For many folks, some help and a second chance is all they need to get their lives on track.
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