Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Last week, former Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele expressed disappointment after some law enforcement officials around the state expressed opposition to State Questions 780 and 781.
Steele, chairman of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, said in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations:
“The reforms contained in state questions 780 and 781 will allow law enforcement to focus on the truly dangerous criminals by diverting low-level, nonviolent offenders to treatment and rehabilitation. Crimes with guns and violent offenses are not impacted by these measures.
“These reforms will also help overburdened DAs and law enforcement by shifting nonviolent offenders to rehabilitation, treatment and job training. Long prison sentences and a felony conviction are not shown to be a deterrent – our current, overcrowded prison system is evidence that these methods are not working.
Our bipartisan coalition of law enforcement officials, faith-based organizations and community leaders from across the state are supporting these two state questions because we believe that investing resources in programs that treat the underlying causes of incarceration will help return people to productive lives in the community.”
Steele, a Republican, championed reform during his tenure as leader of the state House of Representatives.
Also last week, Right on Crime Oklahoma released statements encouraging support for the two propositions.
Right on Crime state director Andrew Speno said, “Questions 780 and 781 will bring Oklahoma into alignment with successful reforms in other conservative states that give nonviolent offenders a second chance while ensuring prisons can focus on locking up those who are dangerous. Research shows that those who commit offenses such as possessing a small amount of drugs or writing a hot check can be more effectively held accountable through sanctions such as probation and drug court where they must earn a living, support their family, and stay clean, instead of being a burden on taxpayers behind bars.”
Right on Crime’s national policy director Marc Levin said, in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, “It is critical that the public understand that state questions 780 and 781 focus only on low-level, nonviolent offenders. By giving these individuals a second chance so that they do not have a lifelong felony record, these measures will pave the way for them to be productively employed as a contributor to society, rather than a drain on our resources.”
“We are pleased that state questions 780 and 781 provide for reinvesting some of the savings on prison costs,” said Greg Glod, Manager of State Initiatives for the national Right on Crime.
“This will strengthen local public safety programs, such as policing efforts to prevent crime, drug courts and other problem-solving courts, and mental health treatment for offenders whose offending is related to mental illness. Such reinvestment policies have been proven to work, as other states such as Texas, South Carolina, and Georgia that have followed this model have achieved sharper crime declines than in states that have not acted.”
Although conservative leaders such as Ed Meese and Richard Viguerie have long stressed the need for criminal justice reform, the issue took on greater intensity across the nation after the success of reforms enacted during the terms of Governor Rick Perry of Texas. He used ideas advanced at the Texas Public Policy Foundation that enjoyed bipartisan support. That group, the Lone Star State’s leading free-market think tank, launched “Right on Crime” in 2010.
Criminal justice reforms in Texas have fed a 29 percent reduction in crime rates, and a 14 percent overall reduction in incarceration from 2005 to 2015.
Last year, the Right on Crime group established Oklahoma as its first affiliate outside of Texas.