Criminal justice reform is ever among the highest policy priorities in Oklahoma as prison crowding, budget crunches, and the fraying of the moral fiber of Oklahoma families continues to keep our state at the top of all the wrong lists.
Within that priority is an often overlooked problem of epidemic and systemic juvenile delinquency that often results in kids-turned-criminals. When these kids turn to the wrong crowd for support and belonging, prison time isn’t simply a possibility, it’s more a question of when.
Oklahoma’s sentencing statutes have for decades, like many states, simply locked up the worst juveniles offenders and thrown away the proverbial key. Far too often juveniles are sentenced to life terms without a chance for parole and for an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of a second chance at life.
But late Wednesday afternoon, there are signs many may finally get that chance. Rep. Virgin’s HB 3024 proposes to end mandatory life without parole for juvenile offenders. The bill would simply codify the right for ‘lifers’ to a parole hearing in hopes that time well served might merit them a shot at that redemption and for a normal, productive life.
After a contentious debate and impassioned testimony by a young man released from prison as a result of such legislation, HB 3024 passed overwhelmingly 14-1. The bill heads to the full House floor in the coming days.