Oklahoma’s upcoming ballot measure - State Question 805 - would end a long-held practice in Oklahoma of enhancing prison sentences where a person has been previously convicted of the same or similar crimes. The measure has received widespread support, including from some unlikely places.
“Oklahoma has had a prison problem for a long time,” Avengers star Scarlett Johansson says in a new YouTube video. “They consistently lead the nation in incarceration rates, and Oklahoma puts more women in prison per capita than any other state in our country.”
Supporters say the measure would ease the state’s ongoing prison crisis and save taxpayers as much as $20 million a year in corrections costs. Oklahoma passed many of its sentence enhancement rules during a time when elected officials around the nation were under pressure from voters to enact “tough on crime” laws.
The authors of SQ 805 point to research showing that tough-on-crime laws like those in Oklahoma have not deterred or discouraged crime as intended. Instead, they cite examples of long prison sentences given out for petty nonviolent crimes.
One offender served 33 years in prison for $400 worth of bad checks. Another was sentenced to 15 years for stealing necessities and kid’s toys from Walmart. Advocates for the reforms say passage would prevent such extreme sentences and allow judges, juries, and prosecutors to determine the appropriate penalties.
An opposition group to the ballot measure formed earlier this year countered that SQ 805 leaves career criminals with the impression that they can continually commit new crimes and not pay an adequate price for it. They say the measure could allow legitimately dangerous criminals to reenter communities and victimize new people by exploiting Oklahoma’s desire to give criminal offenders a “second chance.” Laws prohibiting things like indecent exposure, stalking, and even animal cruelty would become more difficult to enforce, they add.
Voters will decide whether SQ805 will become law in the November general election. watch the video here.
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