Once again, the voters of Oklahoma are being asked to take a prudent step to reduce the state’s unsustainable prison population.
Only Louisiana incarcerates a higher portion of its population than Oklahoma, but all those people warehoused in public and private prisons around the state aren’t making us any safer. Indeed, mass incarceration breaks up families, pushes dependence, leads to long-term unemployment and results in more crime.
It’s an outrageously expensive system. Money the state is paying to support its bulging prison system is money that can’t be spent on programs that actually reduce crime: education, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment and health care.
If it makes it to the ballot, State Question 805 would ask voters to revise the state constitution to prevent longer prison sentences for people convicted of nonviolent crimes on the basis of previous nonviolent crimes. So-called enhanced sentencing would still be an option for anyone ever convicted of a violent crime.
The proposal would also provide a mechanism for inmates currently serving enhanced sentences involving nonviolent crimes to seek sentence modifications.
As Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board member Kelly Doyle pointed out in a Sunday op-ed column, Oklahoma convicts spend nearly 70% longer in prison for property crimes than those convicted of comparable crimes in others states. For drug crimes, Oklahoma sentences are 79% longer.
We’re putting too many people in prison for the wrong reasons and keeping them there too long. It damages our economy and leads to generational poverty and dependence.
Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform, the coalition pushing the initiative petition, includes many of those who successfully led the campaign for State Questions 780 and 781, which reduced sentencing standards for minor property and drug crimes and redirected funding to crime-reducing programs in the community. Both measures passed by more than 150,000 votes.
When the issues are explained to them, we think the voters of Oklahoma will embrace SQ 805, too.