Oklahoma CURE

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Tulsa World Editorial: SQ 780 and 781 will relieve state prison problems

Jul 5, 2016 | by Lynn Powell

Two state questions that could have a positive impact on Oklahoma’s prison population moved closer to being on the November ballot.

More than 110,000 Oklahoma voters signed petitions calling for a vote on State Question 780 and State Question 781, Secretary of State Chris Benge has confirmed. State law requires 65,987 signatures. The signatures have been submitted to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for a final check.

Both questions would help reform a broken criminal justice system and, over time, reduce prison overcrowding, cut state prison costs and increase community mental health services.

While we haven’t made up our minds on the details of the two state questions, we certainly agree with their premises: Oklahoma locks up too many people, and it isn’t doing enough to divert people from prison and into programs that can help turn their lives around.

SQ 780 would reclassify some felony drug and property crimes as misdemeanors. SQ 781 requires the state to estimate the cost savings and direct that money toward crime prevention efforts, such as rehabilitation programs, education and job training. It also would reallocate funding to increase treatment services and mental health care for individuals who need help.

Oklahoma’s prisons are bursting at the seams, housing more than 28,000 inmates. Oklahoma has the second highest rate of incarceration per capita in the nation. The population is growing and becoming more costly each year.

While the final legal tests haven’t been passed, it looks increasingly likely that SQ 780 and 781 will be on the November ballot. If they do nothing more than provoke a full public discussion of Oklahoma’s expensive and ineffective mass incarceration, then they’ve served a purpose.