Oklahoma CURE

Ensuring that prisons are used only for those who absolutely must be incarcerated and that prisoners have all the resources they need to turn their lives around.
GET INVOLVED

Connect with us

JOIN THE CAMPAIGN

Oklahoma lawmakers struggle with how to be smart on crime

Mar 4, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

State Rep. Scott Biggs is opposed to legislation by Rep. Bobby Cleveland that seeks to reduce the state’s high and expensive incarceration rate by shortening time behind bars for some of Oklahoma’s worst criminals. One of the last cases Rep. Scott Biggs prosecuted as an assistant district attorney involved a man who brutally raped and impregnated his own daughter. Crimes like these help explain the lawmaker’s opposition to any legislation that could shorten time behind bars for some of Oklahoma’s worst criminals. “These are real situations and real sentences handed down for shocking and heinous crimes,” said Biggs, a former prosecuting attorney in Grady and Caddo counties. “I am more in touch with the victim.” Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, whose district includes state prison facilities, is backing legislation opposed by Biggs, R-Chickasha, that seeks to reduce Oklahoma’s high and expensive incarceration rate.

by Rick Green Modified: March 2, 2015 at 2:00 pm

State Rep. Scott Biggs is opposed to legislation by Rep. Bobby Cleveland that seeks to reduce the state’s high and expensive incarceration rate by shortening time behind bars for some of Oklahoma’s worst criminals.

One of the last cases Rep. Scott Biggs prosecuted as an assistant district attorney involved a man who brutally raped and impregnated his own daughter.

Crimes like these help explain the lawmaker’s opposition to any legislation that could shorten time behind bars for some of Oklahoma’s worst criminals.

“These are real situations and real sentences handed down for shocking and heinous crimes,” said Biggs, a former prosecuting attorney in Grady and Caddo counties. “I am more in touch with the victim.”

Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, whose district includes state prison facilities, is backing legislation opposed by Biggs, R-Chickasha, that seeks to reduce Oklahoma’s high and expensive incarceration rate.

85 percent threshold

Cleveland’s House Bill 1117 concerns those convicted of the state’s most serious crimes, those requiring convicts to serve at least 85 percent of their prison time. The bill would allow them to accumulate credits for good behavior and self-improvement courses so they can be released when they reach the 85 percent threshold.

Currently, these credits can only be accumulated after an inmate has served 85 percent of the sentence, meaning the inmate ends up serving closer to 95 percent.

If inmates are on their best behavior throughout their prison time, it would be better for them and better for correctional officers, Cleveland said.

“I want to incentivize good behavior,” he said. “Inmates would be more inclined to take classes, work on anger management, family issues, be more ready to rejoin society.”

“There’s nothing that shows a longer lockup is a deterrent to crime.”

His measure passed a House committee and is headed for the full House, but Biggs attached an amendment to it requiring that it apply only to newly sentenced criminals, not existing inmates. His ultimate goal is to kill the measure entirely.

“It’s a horrible deal to even begin with,” Biggs said. “Rapists, murderers, child molesters, child abusers — any bill to release them early is a bad bill in my opinion.”

Remaining tough

The difference in approach between Biggs and Cleveland shows in a nutshell how members of the Oklahoma Legislature are struggling to find ways to remain tough on crime as befits a conservative state dominated by Republicans, while finding approaches to reducing the surging prison population. The state leads the U.S. in female incarceration rate and has one of the highest men’s rates as well.

Cleveland said his bill could save the state millions of dollars in incarceration costs at a time when it is facing a $600 million budget hole.

“This is absolutely one of the most important justice reform measures we will consider,” Cleveland said.

Gov. Mary Fallin has made criminal justice reform and reducing the incarceration rate key goals for her second term.

Biggs acknowledged that steps must be taken to reduce prison overcrowding, but he favors an approach addressing the over-incarceration of low-level drug offenders.

“Get them out of prison as soon as possible,” he said. “I’m not against prison reform, but let’s not start with the worst criminals that we have in the system, people who have destroyed a family by murdering someone, people who have raped a child and ruined a childhood.”

CLICK for link