You Should Vote Yes on State Question 805

October 26, 2020 by G.W. Schulz

A mom was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing necessities and toys from a Walmart. A military veteran was sentenced to 17 years for pawning a stolen laptop. A man served 33 years in prison for $400 worth of bad checks.

All of these sentences were handed down because of harsh rules in our State that severely punish anyone who has committed past crimes, no matter the nature of those crimes.

Oklahoma voters in November have a critical opportunity in State Question 805 to eliminate sentence enhancements for nonviolent crime and end injustices like these once and for all.

“Tough on Crime” is a Failure

Oklahoma passed many of its sentence-enhancement rules during an era when elected officials everywhere were under pressure from voters to enact “tough-on-crime” laws. Today, we know much more about human behavior and the psychology of crime. Extensive research has since revealed that tough-on-crime laws like those in Oklahoma and elsewhere didn’t meaningfully deter crime. Oklahoma and other states have found themselves financing long prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders at immense taxpayer expense with too few demonstrable public safety benefits to show for it.

The Human Cost of Sentence Enhancements is Immense

Consider these stories cited by Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform, an advocacy group leading the effort for SQ 805’s passage:

  • Mario Darrington received four life sentences in 2010 for nonviolent drug trafficking. He’d developed a drug addiction while undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Darrington’s sentence ballooned under Oklahoma law, because he had previous nonviolent drug offenses. Darrington has never been able to see his nephew play basketball for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
  • Damita Price was sentenced to life without parole for drug trafficking. Price’s drug proceeds were helping to cover her son’s medical bills from muscular dystrophy. Two previous nonviolent drug possessions swelled her sentence to life in prison. Price served 21 years before her sentence was finally commuted in 2017. The first thing Price did upon release was visit her son’s grave. She’d been prohibited from attending his funeral while behind bars.
  • Kevin Ott developed an addiction to methamphetamines after being laid off from a manufacturing job. Previous convictions led to a sentence of life without parole for drug trafficking in 1997. Ott’s mom, sister, and niece have since become tireless opponents of excessive drug sentences. When Ott’s niece, Morgan Hale, was just seven years old, her mother was tragically killed in a car crash on her way to visit Ott in prison.

Support for 805 is Broad and Bipartisan

A public appetite in Oklahoma for criminal justice reform has created surprising and inspiring alliances. Backers of SQ 805 include everyone from retired judges, police chiefs, and criminal prosecutors to business leaders, past governors, and civil liberties attorneys. The state’s two most prominent think tanks -- the liberal-leaning Oklahoma Policy Institute and the conservative-leaning Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs -- both support SQ 805 and share the same arguments:

  • Sentence enhancements have not improved public safety as promised.
  • Judges, juries, and prosecutors will still retain the power to hand out maximum sentences to truly grievous offenders.
  • The state’s prisons are bursting at the seams. SQ 805 promises to reverse the tide and help end cruel, lengthy sentence enhancements for petty offenses.
  • State taxpayers could save up to $186 million over the next 10 years with SQ 805’s passage.

Still Not Convinced?

Fairness and reasonableness are essential elements of justice and, by extension, the beating heart of our justice system. Ask yourself - is it really fair or reasonable for someone to serve a lifetime in prison because they committed minor nonviolent offenses? We say no, and so should you.

Vote yes on SQ805 on November 3nd.

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