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Bills target inmate behavior, prison crowding

Jan 19, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

A state lawmaker has filed a measure aimed at improving the behavior of inmates. Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove, is the author of Senate Bill 112.The measure would allow those offenders convicted of crimes requiring them to serve 85 percent of a sentence to begin earning credits toward early release at the beginning of their sentence as opposed to the end. The credits toward early release would not be applied until the offender has served 85 percent of the sentence, according to the measure.

By BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau | Posted: Monday, January 19, 2015 12:00 am

OKLAHOMA CITY — A state lawmaker has filed a measure aimed at improving the behavior of inmates.

Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove, is the author of Senate Bill 112.

The measure would allow those offenders convicted of crimes requiring them to serve 85 percent of a sentence to begin earning credits toward early release at the beginning of their sentence as opposed to the end.

The credits toward early release would not be applied until the offender has served 85 percent of the sentence, according to the measure.

Crimes requiring an offender to serve 85 percent of a sentence range from murder and child pornography to human trafficking and rape.

Shaw said he hopes the measure would serve as an incentive for offenders to complete programs that would keep them away from prison once they are released.

“If they stay in prison long enough, it becomes a college for crime,” Shaw said.

The measure could also help reduce the prison population.

“That is not the reason I have filed the bill,” Shaw said. “But hopefully, it will help.”

Over the years, lawmakers have added crimes to the list for which a person would be required to serve 85 percent of the sentence. That has contributed to the capacity problem inside prison walls.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has not done any calculations to determine the impact of the measure on its prison population, which is at 116 percent of capacity, said Terri Watkins, the agency’s director of communications.

“Right now if they are sentenced to 85 percent, they serve 85 percent and then they begin to collect earned credits,” Watkins said. “So, normally a person sentenced for an 85-percent crime will serve 92 to 93 percent of their sentence. It could be higher.”

Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said he is sponsoring legislation to let the credits start accumulating once the offender is incarcerated and have them applied when the offender has served 85 percent of the crime.

He said he sponsored the same bill last year, but it met opposition from some who falsely believed that it would let those who commit rape and murder out early.

“The law says it is 85 percent,” Cleveland said. “It does not say 90 percent, 95 percent or 98 percent. The way we have been doing it is a violation of the law.”

He said the measure will save the Oklahoma Department of Corrections funds.

“It incentivizes the offender to be good from day one,” Cleveland said. “Now, an offender can be the biggest jerk in prison they can be. Until they hit 85 percent, it does not matter.”

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Feb. 2.

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