Criminal justice reform or boost to crimes

Voters in November face a decision on whether to decimalize certain non-violent felonies. Television commercials are flooding the airways with commercials supporting and disparaging the proposal known as State Question 805.  

Currently, district attorneys can seek longer sentences for those charged with a crime if it is within 10 years of a conviction for a previous felony conviction. For second-time felony conviction, punishment can be between twice the first-time minimum sentence and life in prison. If the individual has more than two prior felony convictions, a third felony sentence could be enhanced up to three times the minimum sentence that is given for a first-time offense and life in prison. 

Voters will be asked to decide that felony sentences could not be made longer based on previous non-violent felony convictions. In addition, the measure will allow those serving a sentence in which the enhanced measures were used to determine the sentence and opportunity to have their conviction reduced. It would require a court to order the reduction. Supporters see it is a way to reduce prison overcrowding as well as provide fairness. Oklahomans serve more lengthy prison sentences on average than other states which leads to a high rate of incarceration. 

 Opponents of the proposal include Gov. Kevin Stitt, district attorneys, and the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "It peels back enhancements for DUIs, human trafficking, domestic violence — some of the things I don’t think we need to put into our constitution," argues Gov. Stitt.  

Delaware County State Representative Josh West also opposes the measure saying, “While I support criminal justice reforms, this constitutional amendment chops the legislature’s hands off.” 

The main categories of concern expressed by opponents deal with domestic violence, child trafficking, animal cruelty and property crimes such as home burglaries. Prosecutors believe that there are no real repercussions to those who commit misdemeanor crimes over and over. 

Supporters include Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform who sponsored the 2016 state questions that reduced from felonies to misdemeanors a number of non-violent crimes as well as the ACLU of Oklahoma.  

A report by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform projected that eliminating sentence enhancement would result in an 8.5 percent reduction in the state’s prison population and save at least $142 million over 10 years. 

Kris Steele, executive director of the group says, "The reality is this, people who break the law need to be held accountable. We understand that, we believe that there has to be consequences. But the issue is appropriate consequences. If we’re ever going to have a just system, we have to have a model that treats everyone the same, we have to take the bias out of prosecution and the bias out of our sentencing.” 

Not all district attorneys are opposed to the measure. Pottawatomie County district attorney Allan Grub said, “SQ 805 is the best next step to continue safely reducing our prison population. It could save us nearly $186 million over the next decade, and that money could be re-invested in rehabilitative resources for low-level, nonviolent offenders. Strategies such as drug court and rehab have worked to reduce crime and strengthen the community in my district — and they can work in other places, too." 

The ACLU of Oklahoma stated that the measure "will also significantly reduce the unchecked power of prosecutors to force people charged with crimes to accept harsh and excessive plea bargains that aren’t in the best interest of public safety and that have decimated communities of color throughout the state."