Patrick B. McGuigan
Oklahoma’s leading free market “think tank” – the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) – has affirmed the focus and purpose of State Question 805, a qualified state constitutional citizen initiative awaiting a place on one of the remaining possible 2020 election ballots
Trent England, executive vice president for OCPA, said in a prepared statement, “Debates about sentencing reform should be backed by data. We found that State Question 805 would reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rate enough that we could close some of our oldest and most expensive prisons. That means less overcrowding for inmates, safer conditions for guards and lower costs for taxpayers.”
Results of the OCPA study were distributed to news organizations around Oklahoma today (June 17), and highlighted in an online “virtual” press conference with around two dozen participants, including reporters for several of the state’s largest news organizations.
The provided summary of the OCPA study explained:
“Oklahoma criminal statutes typically provide a sentencing range for each offense. A separate law allows even longer sentences — sometimes including life in prison — for persons with prior felony convictions. People convicted of non-violent property and drug offenses are the most likely to receive enhanced penalties under this [current] law and also receive the harshest sentence increases.
“State Question 805 would limit this sentence enhancement to crimes that the legislature considers violent. This should reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by 8.5 percent over the next 10 years. That would reduce state expenses between $45 million and $186 million, with expected savings of at least $142 million.
“Taxpayer savings of up to $27 million per year would continue indefinitely into the future. These funds could be directed to substance abuse and mental health services, victim’s services, reentry programs, or other public safety priorities.”
Joining for unveiling of the OCPA study were Trent England (Executive VP, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs – OCPA), Jonathan Small (President, OCPA), David Safavian (General Counsel of the American Conservative Union), Dan Little (Attorney, Little, Oliver & Gallagher PLLC) and Estela Hernandez (Board member, Oklahoma State Board of Education).
Responding to the new study in “real time” was former Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele of Shawnee, who welcomed the enthusiasm of the speakers assembled online.
Steele is presently chairman of Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform. He guided to passage the original Justice Reinvestment Initiative package in 2012
In 2016, Steele was instrumental in campaign to secure popular approval of State Questions 780 and 781, measures which helped reignite momentum for substantive reform.
Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805, welcomed OCPA’s affirmation, saying, “This analysis backs up what we already know — that eliminating Oklahoma’s excessive sentencing practices puts us on track to become a better state.
“The money saved by safely lowering our prison population can be redirected to rehabilitative services, resources for crime survivors, reentry programs or other public good initiatives.”
Supporters of the constitutional initiative submitted more than 260,000 signatures on June 1, and are awaiting designation of a 2020 ballot. That decision will rest with Governor Kevin Stitt.