OK DAs Worry About Drug Treatment Under Reforms

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Proponents of Oklahoma criminal justice reform measures that passed Tuesday will end the ability of district attorneys across the state to file felony charges following “simple” drug possession arrests. They spent yesterday celebrating, but the district attorneys who opposed the bills spent the day in a much more somber mood, reports The Frontier. One measure reclassified the possession of “personal use” amounts of controlled dangerous substances like heroin, methamphetamines, or cocaine from felony crimes to misdemeanors. It also changed the threshold for what property crimes ended up in a felony charge. Previously, property crime over the $500 mark was a felony; now, that threshold has been bumped up to $1,000.

The idea is to lessen the burden of incarceration on the local and state level, and one proposition is meant to divert money saved from that benefit to increase treatment options for drug offenders, be it expanded drug courts, or mental health courts. District attorneys fear for smaller communities that lack widely available, readily accessible treatment facilities. The new laws go into effect in July, but they question how long it will take for the proposed cost savings to trickle down to the local level. If that money arrives as scheduled, they wonder how long it will be until rural communities can turn it into treatment. John David Luton, the first assistant district attorney for Tulsa County, said “the fine print” leaves the administering of what will be newly funded treatment facilities to county commissioners. “The problem is that many of these communities don’t have the options that we do here in Tulsa,” he said. “We’re fortunate in Tulsa to have funding for drug court, or mental health court, or veterans court, or women in recovery. But if you go to … other counties, that type of thing isn’t there to the degree it is here. So where are people going to find that treatment?”

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