Letter: 'Protect criminal justice reform that works'

The Shawnee News-Star

Dear editor,

Over the past few years, Oklahoma has made progress on smart criminal justice reform. But Oklahoma still has one of the highest imprisonment rates in the nation, and has had one of the highest female imprisonment rates for nearly three decades.

Our state can’t afford to roll back reforms that have had a positive impact on our families, communities and state budget, especially when these reforms have ongoing support from Oklahoma voters.

New polling data finds that 76% of Oklahomans continue to support SQ 780, which was approved by voters in 2016, and reclassified simple drug possession and low-level property crimes as misdemeanors. The polling also found that 69% of Oklahomans support criminal justice reform overall.

SQ 780 and its reforms aren’t just widely supported by the public. They’re also working.

Since SQ 780 passed, Oklahoma’s property crime rates have fallen by 5%, and every major metropolitan area has had a decline in property crime. Reforms have safely decreased the state’s prison population and produced more than $10 million in savings each year to help Oklahomans in need of substance abuse and mental health treatment.

Unfortunately, there’s a bill under consideration in the House of Representatives — Senate Bill (SB) 334 — that will undo years of effective reform.

Right now, if three or more property offenses are committed within 90 days, the value of those items can be added together and will determine if the offense is a misdemeanor or a felony. If items total over $1,000, it is a felony. SB 334 would double this time period, leading to more felony charges and longer prison sentences.

Low-level property offenses are often survival crimes stemming from addiction and poverty.

We know long sentences for these low-level offenses don’t make our communities safer. In turn, felony convictions make it significantly more difficult for people to find a job and secure stable housing, which can make re-entering their communities even more difficult.

SB 334 would damage meaningful progress that has been made as a result of SQ 780. It will only increase the prison population and waste taxpayer dollars.

We must continue to push for safe, smart, and common-sense reforms that transition people back into their communities and reduce the probability that they will commit another offense.

I urge Oklahoma lawmakers to vote ‘no’ on SB 334 this session. It’s your chance to protect criminal justice reforms widely supported by your constituents, and that work to make our state stronger, safer, and help Oklahomans thrive.

Jan Largent

President of the League of Women Voters Oklahoma