How can it possibly be that Oklahoma, our beautiful land of the free, has the highest incarceration rate of women per capita of any state in our nation? All Oklahomans, including our good and well-meaning District Attorneys, police officers, Judges, and political leaders, should be struggling with the questions of WHY and HOW did this happen and WHAT needs to be done. Why are we incarcerating our Oklahoma women at three times the national average?
Unless we believe that Oklahoma women are the worst and most criminal women of any state, we must admit that our criminal justice system has not worked and badly needs reform. Why are we spending over half a billion dollars per year on our prison system, over $16,000.00 per prisoner, especially non-violent offenders?
Let’s analyze and weight the arguments against SQ 805. Opponents argue that we should not amend the Oklahoma Constitution. If the Oklahoma Constitution were similar to the United States Constitution, I would agree but there are huge historical factual differences. Our United States Constitution passed in 1787 and our Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, passed in 1791, are beautiful and almost sacred documents originally containing only five hand-written pages and only amended 27 more times in 229 years. In comparison, the Oklahoma Constitution passed in 1907 contained 229 pages, literally had specific provisions regulating kerosene and has been amended over 150 times in 113 years. Unlike the United States Constitution which has high requirements to be amended, the Oklahoma Constitution was designed from the beginning to be easily amended by giving the power to amend directly to the will of the people by simple majority vote (Article V, Sections 1 and 2). This tremendous constitutional power granted directly to the people is why we have had over 800 State questions to amend the Oklahoma Constitution. Because of the huge differences between the Oklahoma Constitution and the United States Constitution, the constitutional argument fails and is not a valid reason to vote against SQ 805.
Opponents argue that SQ 805 does not go far enough to address other problems and reforms tand that these matters can be better addressed by statutory legislation. The simple response is that these matters could have been but have not been addressed by the legislature and in the meantime, Oklahoma has had the highest incarceration rate per capita of women for 25 years. How much longer will Oklahoma women and men sentenced to unreasonably and inhumanely long years for non-violent crimes have to wait for legislative prison reform to be released? And why can we not do both? Let’s pass SQ 805 and then go to work on urgining our legislators and Governor to pass other statutory criminal justice reforms?
If we can unite to pass SQ 805, we will be sending a message to our legislators and political leaders that “We, the People” do not want the highest incarceration rate of our women and men in our Nation and we do not want to waste millions of taxpayers dollars on prisons. If we fail to pass SQ 805, what will our message be? Let us all, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat, unite together to support and vote for SQ 805.
Dan Little is an attorney with Little Law Firm.