OKLAHOMA CITY – The “Yes on 780 and 781” campaign, led by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, last week officially launched a TV advertising campaign that will feature four commercials slated to air throughout October and the first week of November. The TV spots underscore the need for reform and also profiles some of the real stories of families and communities adversely impacted by the justice system.
State Questions 780 and 781 – the pair of ballot initiatives which have generated support across the state from law enforcement, business leaders, faith leaders, and other prominent Oklahomans – would pursue what advocates describe as “a smarter approach to public safety by reducing the prison population, redirecting savings toward addressing the root causes of crime, and providing rehabilitation and treatment services to return people to productive lives in their communities.”
The first commercial aired last week and can be watched at www.YesOn780And781.org.
“We have seen a tremendous amount of support for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma and from all walks of life – from the faith community and the business community, to our law enforcement leaders and every day Oklahomans,” said Kris Steele, Chair of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. “We’re confident the TV spots will generate even more support – once Oklahomans see the real stories of how the justice system is impacting our families and communities, I know that voters will be voting yes on 780 and 781 come November.”
According to a press release from the campaign, the TV advertising campaign will continue to bring the conversation about the need for reform to Oklahomans across the state, building on the statewide education campaign efforts that have been underway for months.
In addition to hosting a series of town hall events, community conversations, debates, and tele-town halls, the “Yes on 780 and 781” campaign has been generating tremendous support among prominent Oklahomans including business leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement, elected officials, medical care professionals, and many others.
The release from the support campaign headquarters in Oklahoma City observed, “These supporters aren’t alone in their support, as polling has revealed a majority of Oklahoma voters are also on board. A joint SoonerPoll/Oklahoman survey conducted in August found that 75 percent of Oklahoma voters said they support State Question 780, and 71 percent of Oklahoma voters said they support State Question 781.
“These polls reinforce the findings of a strategy poll from earlier this year indicating that 77 percent of Oklahomans agree that someone who commits a low-level offense shouldn’t be saddled with a felony conviction that will follow them through life and prevent them from getting an education or a job, and 79 percent agree that instead of keeping these people behind bars, we should invest in programs that prevent crime and provide rehabilitation – the policies encompassed in State Questions 780 and 781.”
The Need for Reform
Oklahoma has the second-highest overall incarceration rate in the country and the highest incarceration rate for women, which costs taxpayers nearly $515 million annually and drains significant resources away from investments that can do more to provide necessary rehabilitation and training programs, and ultimately enhance public safety. As the state’s prison population continues growing – increasing by 12 percent between 2009 and 2014 – so does its price tag, which has increased by 172 percent in the past two decades.
State Questions 780 and 781
Through two ballot measures – Questions 780 and 781 – the coalition is working to pursue sentencing reforms for certain low-level offenses, which trigger cost savings to be invested in programs to treat drug addiction and mental health conditions and provide access to education and job training, which are more effective approaches to reducing crime and keeping communities safe.
According to a summary provided in the pro-780781 groups most recent release, State Question 780 “would reclassify certain low-level offenses, like drug possession and low-level property offenses, as misdemeanors instead of felonies. By reclassifying these offenses, Oklahoma is able to trigger cost savings from decreased corrections spending.
“Question 781 would then invest those cost savings into addressing the root causes of crime through rehabilitation programs to treat drug addiction and mental health conditions that often contribute to criminal behavior and go untreated in prison, and education and job training programs to help people find employment, and avoid going back to prison.
“Removing the felony conviction for individuals battling addiction and mental illness and redirecting costs savings back to counties for treatment services represent logical next steps toward building on and strengthening the reforms signed into law.”