House of Representatives

Humphrey Studies Criminal Justice Reforms

11/3/2022 1:13:00 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, over the past few weeks has held several interim studies examining reforms he sees as necessary to update Oklahoma's criminal justice system.

The studies took place before the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, which Humphrey chairs.

"My intent is to completely change the criminal justice system so we are better addressing repeat offenders and holding true criminals accountable for their actions. This is the heart of public safety," Humphrey said.. "But, we must stop treating everyone like a criminal. Some people are dealing with substance abuse and addiction issues. Some people are dealing with mental illness or a trauma in their lives. We need to get these people the appropriate help, which turns out is much more cost-effective than throwing them in prison. We also need to revise our probation and parole system."

Humphrey first looked at funding and data collection since the passage of State Question 781. In 2016, state voters passed State Question 780, changing simple drug possession and low-level property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. It's companion bill, SQ781, was intended to take funds saved from SQ780 and spend them on substance abuse and mental health services.

In his study, Humphrey found the state has money available to spend on substance abuse and mental health services, but there must be a will to move the money from corrections to these diversion programs.

"Look, if we keep sending money to prisons, they will find a way to use everything we send them," Humphrey said. "But if we want true reform, we need to start sending money to the programs that help address the root of the problem."

This week, Humphrey studied community sentencing and supervision, which would revise the state's probation and parole system.

Community sentencing allows partnerships between the state and one or more county governments using public and private entities to deliver services to the sentencing court for punishment of eligible felony offenders. The goal is to protect the public while improving the criminal justice system by increasing the availability of punishment and treatment programs to eligible offenders.

Better supervision holds offenders more accountable and reduces crimes, Humphrey said.

One idea shared during the study is to divide the state into judicial districts and have probation and parole efforts currently handled by different county district attorney offices, state agencies and non-profit organizations brought together under one system. Humphrey suggested using data collection to help identify funding and supervision needs.

Humphrey also studied Qualified immunity, which protects state and local officials, including law enforcement officers, from individual liability unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional right. Humphrey said he will pursue legislation for the upcoming session to strengthen protections for law enforcement officers while at the same time stressing consideration should be given to improving screening and training of potential officers.

"At the end of the day, if you have a law enforcement officer doing their job, following their training and policies, and they have to make a split second decision, we want to support them,” he said. "This does not protect those who act inappropriately."

One suggestion for strengthening immunity protections was to impose a statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging civil rights violations under the Governmental Tort Claims Act. A one-year limit was recommended.

In addition, Humphrey studied adding various agencies to the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Retirement System, improving pension plans and retirement benefits for individuals who work for these agencies. This study took place before the House Banking, Financial Services and Pensions Committee.