The people pushing for more aggressive criminal justice reform in Oklahoma got a gag gift from the Stitt administration two weeks before Christmas.

On Dec. 11, Secretary of State Michael Rogers approved State Question 805 for circulation, which allowed petitioners to start collecting signatures. Rogers started the process on Dec. 26 — the day after Christmas.

That certainly looks like an effort to hamstring the proposed constitutional amendment to bar sentence enhancements for previous convictions of nonviolent felonies.

The petition-pushers have only three months to get the 178,000 signatures needed to force a statewide vote, and starting the process in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day essentially wastes the first week. Neither the petition-passing volunteers nor the potential signers were ready to hit the streets in the week most of the nation stays home, plays with new toys and watches football.

It’s legally legit. If proposed petitions pass legal scrutiny, the secretary of state has the right to say when the circulation process begins, but it’s the cheap sort of manipulation of the process that gives politics a bad name. We expected better.

We like the proposal and think it is the logical successor to State Questions 780 and 781, which rewrote state sentencing laws for small-time drug and property crimes and promised the savings to programs to deal with underlying social problems. Oklahomans overwhelmingly support those efforts, giving criminal justice reform momentum in the state.

But even if we opposed SQ 805, we’d call out the scheduling move as dirty pool.

Kris Steele, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, says his people will get on the job.

Oklahoma spends way too much money locking up way too many people for way too long. It’s a situation that means we spend millions on prison beds instead of schools while we effectively destroy families and hold back economic growth.

Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the world, the highest for women. One of the reasons is that Oklahomans convicted of property crimes spend 70% longer behind bars than the national average. For drug convictions, it’s 79% longer.

That doesn’t make us any safer, just poorer. Poor as in the decision to start SQ 805 on the day after Christmas.


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