TULSA, Okla. (KTUL) — A new bill aimed at reducing sentences for crimes committed by domestic abuse survivors passed the Oklahoma House Judiciary – Criminal Committee Wednesday unanimously.
House Bill 1639, written by Representative Toni Hasenbeck, would give the court more discretion for sentencing people convicted of crimes, where domestic abuse is determined to be a significant factor.
“I'm doing this for women who are in prison who did what they had to do to fight for their family,” said when Hasenbeck did a sit-down interview with Hasenbeck in January leading up HB 1639 being made public.
The bill would provide a procedure for sentencing mitigation. The defendant would have to prove domestic abuse substantially related to the offense during a hearing.
It says no matter the range of the offense, a proven domestic abuse survivor should not receive a sentence longer than 10 years.
“We need to do more for women who find themselves in a dangerous situation that they have to solve themselves in their own home,” said Hasenbeck.
Oklahoma Appleseed Center for Law and Justice has been conducting research to gain a better understanding of how many domestic abuse survivors are incarcerated in Oklahoma.
While an exact number is unknown, the center’s founding executive director has gathered hundreds of letters from women incarcerated at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.
“This is really a survivor led movement April Wilkens and the other women inside Mabel Bassett are really determining how we go forward,” said Colleen McCarty.
“A lot of them ready to share. They feel like these are stories that have buried for too long and things that people haven’t heard or understood about how the system works.”
House Bill 1639 could give women like April Wilkens, who was convicted in the 1998 death of her former fiancé Terry Carlton, a chance for early release.
“The extent of the abuse was pretty horrific and all of it was substantiated by external evidence”, said McCarty.
Wilkens testified that she was raped, threatened with a gun and handcuffed the night of the murder at Cartlon’s midtown Tulsa home.
Wilkens' parole attempts, including most recently in March 2022, have been unsuccessful.
“So many women in prison with me here have told me just chilling stories about the abuse they’ve suffered too before coming here,” Wilkens told NewsChannel 8 during a phone interview from inside Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.