Several hundred supporters packed into the Tulsa Dream Center on Saturday afternoon for a rally centered around a new criminal justice reform measure seen as the successor to State Question 780.
Prosecutors can seek longer sentences for people with prior convictions using what are called sentence enhancements. State Question 805, if approved by voters, would end the use of such enhancements for nonviolent offenders. Those who have ever been convicted of a violent felony would still be subject to the enhancements.
The Yes on 805 campaign needs about 178,000 signatures before the end of collection on March 25 to make the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Campaign President Sarah Edwards said Oklahoma’s track record of high incarceration rates, particularly for women, shows the need for continued reform like SQ 805.
“If someone committed a crime in the past and served a 5-year sentence, then commits another crime, district attorneys have discretion to seek enhanced, longer sentences in addition to what’s already in the books,” Edwards said. “It’s just adding and compiling to our incarceration rates with these lengthy sentences.
“We already incarcerate 70-79% more than other states for nonviolent offenses, property offenses and drug offenses.”
The north Tulsa rally was the campaign’s second of the day, with a previous event at Douglass High School in Oklahoma City. Organizers had petitions at both Saturday rallies, and Edwards said the campaign will be collecting signatures at most major events in the coming weeks ahead of the deadline.
Gov. Kevin Stitt was quoted in a Dec. 4 story in the Oklahoman that he opposed the measure. Stitt said the proposed constitutional amendment “isn’t the right way to do criminal justice reform.”
Edwards said polling shows two-thirds of Oklahoma voters support the policy change and she wants to give them the chance to make it law. Part of generating support for the law involves breaking the stigma surrounding repeat offenders, Edwards said.
More often than not, Edwards said it’s recurring issues of mental health and addiction that lead to repeat offenders. She said it’s vital to separate people with those issues from an association with hardened criminals.
“Addiction, substance abuse, the low-level property crime to feed the addiction, that’s a health issue, not a criminal issue,” Edwards said. “We’re incarcerating people that we’re not really afraid of, we’re just mad at them and we’re putting them in prison for the majority of their productive years for earning a living and stand on their feet.”