by Patrick B. McGuigan, Editor
Oklahoma City’s First Unitarian Church will be the site of a forum concerning “Mass Incarceration and The Death Penalty” this Thursday (June 18).
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (OK-CADP) has organized the event as part of its campaign to defeat State Question 776. Restoring Justice Oklahoma (RJO) is also part of the event at the church, located at 600 N.W. 13 Street. Doors open at 6 p.m., with the forum at 6:30 p.m.
A grassroots organization, RJO is addressing criminal justice reform issues “through citizen awareness and action,” the group says.
Dr. Britney Hopkins, a co-organizer for RJO, said in a press release provided to The City Sentinel, “The United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
“The question is why? The War on Drugs, economics, race, and harsh sentencing all play crucial roles,” Hopkins stated. “This forum will focus on the facts and misconceptions that plague both mass incarceration and the death penalty. In order to start fixing the problem, we must first educate ourselves.”
Hopkins continued, “The death penalty is fiscally irresponsible. Studies vary, but it costs anywhere from two to 10 times more to execute someone than it does to put them in prison for life. Add to that the fact that execution doesn’t deter crime. These are important facts in the death penalty debate.”
With more than one of every 100 Americans behind bars, activists contend incarceration issues amount to a “major social crisis,” among the biggest problems facing the U.S.
“According to a 2013 report by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate ranks fourth in the United States and the state currently holds the nation’s record for the highest rate of female incarceration per capita,” OK-CADP said in a release about Thursday’s event.
Former state Sen. Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City, now the OK-CADP chair, reflected, “The relationship between these two issues from an economic perspective alone demands that we do more to educate citizens.
“OK CADP is privileged to host and is grateful to Restoring Justice Oklahoma for presenting this first in our series of many activities designed to increase education and awareness in the coming year in support of OK-CADP’s campaign to defeat State Question 776 constitutionalizing death in Oklahoma.
“We also appreciate the Unitarian Church for allowing us to use their facility and for their leadership in the area of social and criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.”
S.Q. 776 will be on the statewide ballot in November 2016. It was referred to voters by the Legislature. The measure would, if approved by voters, add state constitutional language declaring that “statutes of this state requiring, authorizing, imposing or relating to the death penalty are in full force and effect.”
While allowing changes in state law through legislative action or initiative petition, the proposed amendment would assert that the death penalty cannot be judicially stricken on grounds that it amounts to “the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments.”
Just days after the 2015 legislative session ended at the Oklahoma Capitol, foes of capital punishment were heartened when the Nebraska Legislature abolished the sanction within the Cornhusker State. In all, nineteen states and the District of Columbia have abolished capital punishment in their jurisdictions.
OK-CADP has hosted a series of events to stress its opposition to the death penalty in all instances. A pending U.S. Supreme Court case is examining the “protocols” for the death penalty process in Oklahoma, with the state’s mix of lethal drugs for executions under legal attack.
Rev. Adam Leathers commented, “The most disturbing part of these issues is how many Oklahomans are simply unaware. Oklahoma rivals North Korea in how much of our population we incarcerate, and exceeds Palestine and Afghanistan in how much of our population we execute – that does not include the other U.S. States – only Oklahoma.
“We Oklahomans have consented to allowing our government and justice infrastructure to become violent, retributive and to represent brutal systems of hegemony,” said Leathers, who serves as a spokesperson for OK-CADP.
Johnson said, “We hope to see advocates present at this important forum from issue groups statewide.”