When Gov. Kevin Stitt gave his first State of the State speech in February, he highlighted the need for change in the state’s criminal justice system. Various bills addressing this issue are currently working their way through the Legislature, and next week Ardmore gets the opportunity to hear how local experts and other Oklahomans think this reform should look.
At 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 28, in Conference Room A at Southern Tech, Together Oklahoma will host a criminal justice forum. The panel will be composed of former judge David Blankenship, John Estus from Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, District Attorney Craig Ladd, attorney Jason May, Tanya Revels from Jetty Counseling, Damion Shade from the Oklahoma Policy Institute and Andrew Speno of Right on Crime. Noel Collins will be moderator.
Together Oklahoma is a nonpartisan group of individuals who advocate for various issues effecting Oklahomans. Member Kyle Lawson said the goal of this forum is to provide a wide range of information and opinions about issues within the state’s justice system.
“We want to make sure the conversation is not one sided,” Lawson said. “Each panelist has a very specific background with the work they have done, so we’ve set it up with a specific question that is unique for the individual’s background.”
Lawson said the seven questions will be pre-established and each panelist will be given a set amount of time to answer their specific question. Once their time is finished, the other panelists will then be allotted time to give their comments and response.
After all seven questions have been discussed, the audience will be given the opportunity to ask questions. Attendees will write their questions on a notecard, and then a runner will take the question to the moderator.
Among the many issues discussed will be the idea of reforming the way the state handles court fines and fees.
“We have created a system that is funded by fines and fees that encourages attorneys to prosecute felonies and sometimes not prosecute misdemeanor charges because it’s not going to make them any money,” Lawson said.
While Lawson said there are many issues facing the state’s justice system, he has a hopeful outlook for the future.
“I think this year, we’re in a very unique position where the majority of the legislators agree that the system isn’t working,” Lawson said. “They see the numbers. They see that we are investing in a failing system, and they see that we need to change that.”
Together Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice Forum is free and open to the public. Lawson said that while everyone is welcome to show up the night of the event, they would like people to RSVP so they can get an idea of how many people will be attending. To reserve your space visit https://www.facebook.com/TogetherOklahoma. On the left side of the page click the events tab, and from there you can get your free ticket.