There have been a lot of stories and speculation surrounding State Question 805. Unfortunately, many of these narratives are false, unfounded and misleading.
Thanks to research released from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), we have a clear and measurable understanding of what State Question 805 would and wouldn’t do.
First, here’s where we currently stand.
Oklahoma is the nation’s second highest incarcerator, a fact that has received increased scrutiny in light of our current public health crisis with the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of this crisis is due to repeat sentence penalties. This practice increases the time of incarceration based on prior nonviolent felony convictions. It results in decades-long or even life sentences for people who have only ever committed nonviolent crimes. OCPA analyzed the data and found that repeat sentence penalties are used in four out of five cases, resulting in prison sentences that are 36% longer.
This is bad policy. Our state’s current laws waste money, hurt our community and deprive everyday Oklahomans from moving forward in life, while not making us any safer. State Question 805 would end these decades-long sentences, save taxpayer money and help safely reduce our prison population.
Specifically, this policy would decrease Oklahoma’s prison population by 8.5% over the next 10 years. That’s thousands of Oklahomans getting a second chance and getting on with their lives. That’s thousands of children growing up with a mom, dad or caregiver—instead of visiting them in prison. That’s time and money that our law enforcement officials can spend on more pressing issues. That’s good policy.
SQ 805 would also reduce state expenses by up to $186 million. Currently, Oklahoma taxpayers spend over half a billion dollars on prisons each year. If we want a top ten state, we need to invest in our people. Imagine what $186 million would do for our school system, mental health services, resources for victims of crime, reentry programs or other public safety priorities. Imagine an Oklahoma that invests in people, not prisons.
State Question 805 is a modest policy change. It’s simply the next best step we must take as Oklahomans. If passed by Oklahoma voters, SQ 805 would still hold people accountable—those convicted of nonviolent crimes could receive the maximum sentence allowable. But there’s no reason to pile on years or decades past the maximum sentence. SQ 805 is not dangerous or reckless; it is common sense and necessary reform.
We know Oklahomans serve much longer prison terms than people in other states, particularly for drug and property crimes. We know we need criminal justice reform. And now we know SQ 805 will help save communities, taxpayer dollars and help create a top ten state. I encourage all Oklahomans to vote YES on SQ 805 this November 3.
Sue Ann Arnall is president of Arnall Family Foundation and a board member of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.