Cell Phones in Prison

In addition to the 1,048 still in prison exclusively on drug felonies that today would be misdemeanors, another 1,400 people are serving prison sentences which include similar nonfelony felony convictions, among others. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World file

More than two years after Oklahoma voters approved State Question 780 with more than 58 percent of the vote, some 1,048 people remain in Oklahoma prisons on simple drug possession convictions, according to Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

In 2016, voters approved the initiative petition that raised the felony limit on property crimes and made simple drug possession charges misdemeanors.

But the measure only applied to people arrested after it took effect. It included no relief for people previously convicted.

In addition to the 1,048 still in prison exclusively on drug felonies that today would be misdemeanors, another 1,400 people are serving prison sentences that include similar nonfelony felony convictions, among others.

Another 60,000 people are out of prison but carry the burden of a felony conviction for actions that aren’t felony crimes anymore.

House Bill 1269, passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, would make the SQ 780 standards retroactive, forcing re-sentencing for hundreds of people whose crimes are no longer felonies in the eyes of the people.

HB 1269 is part of a package of criminal justice reform measures being pushed by Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

The proposal isn’t just a matter of reducing the number of people in prison, although it would do that.

It is also a matter of justice. The intent of SQ 780 was a new way of thinking about nonviolent crime. It only makes sense to extend the same justice to people convicted prior to the vote.

Oklahoma has too many people in prison, a higher portion of its population than any state. It’s frustrating that we continue to incarcerate people who have no place behind bars years after SQ 780 made clear the intent of the people. The Legislature should approve HB 1269.

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