To the Editor:
As someone who recently worked in the state legislature as a Page Chamber Lead, I have seen firsthand how a bill becomes a law. All legislation goes through a thorough vetting process as staff and legislators consider the most effective way to solve a problem facing their community.
In a time when politics continues to become more polarized, I am encouraged to see legislators from both sides of the aisle coming together to work towards a bi-partisan solution.
That’s why I am proud to see that at both the state and national levels lawmakers are working together to pass comprehensive criminal justice reform to reduce over-incarceration and make sure our communities are safe.
Here in Oklahoma, our prisons are overcrowded, sitting at 119% capacity. The state’s overall incarceration rate is the second highest in the U.S., and its incarceration rate for women is the highest in the nation. As a result, taxpayers are paying nearly $500 million annually to keep people in prison, rather than investing in better options to enhance public safety.
Instead of wasting taxpayer money by imprisoning mass populations for nonviolent and low-level drug and property offenses, we should invest that money in mental health, drug rehabilitation, job training programs, and education that address the root causes of crime as well as help Oklahomans lead productive and safe lives once they return to their local communities.
Similarly, there is a growing bi-partisan effort in Washington, DC to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act to reform our broken federal criminal justice system. I encourage Senator James Lankford to join the growing list of co-sponsors to the legislation and urge Senator Mitch McConnell (the Majority Leader) to allow floor debate on the legislation this summer.
It is time for change, and change starts by mobilizing Oklahomans to fix both our state and federal systems this year.
Oklahoma State Capitol Page Counselor/Page Chamber Lead, 2016