Too many Oklahomans have served extreme sentences for nonviolent crimes. Formerly incarcerated people and their families are calling for second chances and a fair shot. Read their stories.
Sonya, a mother of two, was facing 20 years in prison for a nonviolent property charge but got a second chance through Women in Recovery.
Morgan’s uncle received life without parole for a nonviolent drug offense when she was 2 years old. The experience drove her to study law so she could help families like hers.
Mario was given two life without parole and two life with parole sentences for a nonviolent drug offense committed because of his own struggle with addiction. His sentence was recently commuted, and Mario hopes to be able to watch his nephew, who plays for the OKC Thunder, play for the first time.
Damita received a life without parole sentence for a drug offense. She was selling drugs to pay for medicine to keep her son alive.
Michael’s nephew is serving a 15 year sentence for stealing a bottle of liquor.
Kayla was separated from her two young daughters and sentenced to 20 years in prison for nonviolent drug offenses.
"I fully support Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform’s important effort through State Question 805, amending the Oklahoma constitution to end the use of sentence enhancements for people convicted of nonviolent crimes."
“Oklahoma has an incarceration crisis, driven in large part by its use of extreme sentences. Our state has some of the longest sentences in the county. We consistently send more of our citizens to prison at a rate unmatched in our country. We have made strides in criminal justice reform as a state, but this cannot and will not be the end of criminal justice reform. I trust the Oklahoma voters to continue to drive this reform forward for the good of our businesses and communities.”
"For far too long, Oklahoma has been known as ‘The World's Prison Capital.’ We need to change that. Oklahoma has made some promising steps in the right direction, doing away with some mandatory minimum sentences in 2015, and legalizing medicinal cannabis in 2018. State Question 805 will further reduce prison populations by doing away with "compound sentencing" (Using prior non-violent offences against defendants, to increase prison sentences). I fully support SQ 805 because I believe this type of sentencing is cruel and does nothing but fuel the private prison industry in the state."
“Oklahoma’s long sentences are increasing prison spending without making us any safer, and we can’t point to a single study that says otherwise. It’s time to embrace SQ 805. It’s time for reform.”
“Every prison in Oklahoma has servicemen or servicewomen that our state has essentially given up on. They are there because the trauma they have experienced in war has manifested itself in mental health or addiction problems, and they have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Some of them are serving wildly disproportionate sentences for crimes that are non-violent and clearly directly related to issues that have manifested as the result of their military experience.
I don’t believe in locking these men and women up and throwing away the key. These are people who put everything on the line for this country, and it’s time we started treating them with the respect they deserve. That means a greater emphasis on mental health and substance abuse treatment for veterans rather than a jail cell. State Question 805 is a step in the right direction on that front, and will directly benefit Oklahoma vets who find themselves struggling with the kind of drug-related issues that Oklahoma’s criminal justice system has traditionally treated very harshly. I am proud to cast my vote in favor of SQ 805 and to take a stand for the men and women who have bravely served this state and nation. ”
"I support SQ 805 because sentence enhancements based on previous crimes are in effect retroactive punishment for past crimes and should not be administered at the discretion of the prosecution."
“When you fight for this country, you sometimes leave pieces of yourself on the battlefield. For me, that was quite literal; I lost my leg serving in Iraq. Many others suffered wounds you can’t see that are equally real and painful.
My injury pushed me to be better, to work harder, and to find a purpose in advocating for my brothers and sisters who have served this country. But I know there are many others just like me who have fallen into despair and, ultimately, a downward spiral of depression and drug use that has led to bad choices and long prison sentences. When we lock these men and women up for decades, especially for non-violent crimes that are directly related to the trauma they suffered in war, we have turned our backs on their service and sacrifice. That’s not right, and that’s why I am proud to support State Question 805, a criminal justice reform measure that will directly benefit vets whose trauma has led them astray.”
"As an Oklahoma trial judge, I saw how our state tried to solve drug addiction with prison sentences alone. The cost to the state is staggering and the results have been minimal at best. It is time to be smart on crime, not just tough on crime. I am proud to support SQ 805, a measure that will save tax dollars while making real progress in the fight against drug addiction."
“Oklahoma hands down extremely long sentences for nonviolent offenses compared to the national average. Long prison sentences don’t just impact individuals serving time, but their entire family. People accused of crimes in Oklahoma can have years, decades, or even life in prison stacked on top of their prison sentence if they have ever been convicted of a crime in the past. This ballot initiative is the next logical step in building on the reforms put into place so far. Our communities and families depend on it.”
“I am pleased with the work that Governor Stitt has accomplished in reforming the state’s criminal justice system. However, Oklahoma has some of the longest sentences in the nation for nonviolent convictions exaggerated in part by punishment multipliers for those with previous convictions. As people have served their time, I’m reminded Jesus has said to forgive not once, not 7 times, but 70 times 7.”
“Oklahoma citizens serve far longer sentences for drug and property crimes compared to the national average. Under Governor Stitt’s leadership, we have made some significant progress, but we cannot stop here. These long sentences weaken our families, our communities, and our workforce, and waste our tax dollars since they also do not make our neighborhoods safer. I trust our citizens to continue pushing criminal justice reform across our communities.”
“Oklahoma has recently taken a giant step toward a better and more just society. But this can’t be the end of the story. We send Oklahomans to prison for far too long, and it hurts our state, our communities and our businesses. Enacting smart reforms to our criminal justice system is critical to having a vibrant economy.”
“Oklahoma continues to send low-level drug offenders to prison for far too long—serving 79% longer sentences for drug offenses than the national average. This injustice harms our families, neighbors and communities. We must continue to make criminal justice reform a priority in our state. This ballot initiative will help reduce our incarceration rate and continue to build on key reforms that move this issue forward.”
“Our state consistently condemns people to prison sentences unheard of throughout the rest of the country. This practice harms our communities, threatens our economy and fractures families. I vowed to fight for reforms in our criminal justice system and this ballot initiative is a step in the right direction. We must keep fighting another day.”
“Governor Stitt and the Legislature have worked hard to create momentum for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. For several years, legislators have tried to change laws to reduce excessive sentences and make prison terms more proportional. Despite support from state leaders and a majority of voters, most of these efforts have failed. Now Oklahoma voters are once again moving into the driver’s seat on sentencing reform to reduce incarceration in our state.”
“Rarely do you have a state question that is morally right and financially stable. SQ 805 is that common sense reform that is morally justifiable and saves our taxpayers money.”
“When we add decades or up to life to a sentence, we tell people we do not have faith in their potential.”
“If Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi can get together and they can address sentence enhancements and reforms, I don’t know why we would reject them in Oklahoma.”
“Sentence Enhancements not only delay access to critical services for those with substance use disorders or mental health conditions, but also punish people for their condition.”
“We need to end Oklahoma’s mass incarceration crisis. I have been impacted by this for a number of years, as well as my innocent children and family.”
“I am proud to say our state is actually moving in the right direction in terms of incarceration. However, we still have a long way to go. We can lock the individual up, but we cannot lock up the root problem, which is usually addiction or another issue. You can lock up the person but you can't lock up the addiction."
“We founded our business around the idea that we can and should create a more inclusive and equitable economy that works for everyone. We believe in a world where aspiring entrepreneurs, regardless of their race, background, and socioeconomic background can have the same level of access and opportunity as any of their peers. In order for us to achieve this, however, we must dismantle the policies and systems previous generations designed to punish people instead of helping them succeed. Our criminal justice system and out-of-control incarceration rates are pushing many individuals and families in the opposite direction, enabling inequities to compound. As we see in today’s environment, the cost of inequality is adding up and it’s bound to get worse unless we redefine those systems; that’s why I’m voting YES on SQ 805.”
“The people most harmed by inequities in our criminal justice system are black and brown Oklahomans. As someone who has spent my entire professional life trying to uplift underserved communities and people of color, I have to speak out on this issue and take a stand in support of State Question 805. It won’t solve everything, but passing SQ 805 and ending sentence enhancements is a big step towards creating a criminal justice system of which we can be proud.”
“Oklahoma is the nation’s leader in incarcerating women and Black individuals. That’s not OK. For years, many of us have tried to legislate reforms to reduce unnecessary incarceration and create a more effective system, only to see politics derail those efforts. To take a clear step forward, we need the people of Oklahoma to weigh in and set this right. I’ll be voting for SQ 805, and I urge you to as well.”
“Oklahoma’s nation-leading incarceration rates for women are directly contributing to the destruction of the family unit. More than two-thirds of all women in Oklahoma prisons are mothers, and many of their children end up in foster care, in poverty, or in other difficult circumstances. As a Republican, a woman, and a former mayor, I am proud to take a stand in support of State Question 805 and the criminal justice reforms that will preserve – rather than dismantle – Oklahoma families.”
“The Oklahoma Innocence Project works to exonerate innocent Oklahomans who are wrongly incarcerated. While we focus on the exoneration of the innocent, we also advocate for any criminal justice measure that restores fairness and equity to the system. State Question 805 deals with non-violent offenders who have been left to languish in the criminal justice system for decades because of arbitrary and overly harsh ‘sentence enhancements,’ for non-violent crimes. It addresses a policy aberration that has made Oklahoma a world leader in incarceration. The enhancement of non-violent felony sentences contributes to the cycle of incarceration that negatively impacts Oklahoma families. It is past time to end this policy and to deliver a more just and equitable system by passing SQ 805.”
“This constitutional amendment falls directly in line with CAIR Oklahoma’s stance on criminal justice reform. Locking people up and throwing away the key for nonviolent offenses is against the values of the Muslim community and is antithetical to the spirit of what makes Oklahoma great. We are proud to offer our support for SQ 805 and to be a part of the effort to create a more just and prosperous state. We recognize that so-called ‘sentence enhancements’ disproportionately impact ethnic and religious minorities and are one of the main drivers of Oklahoma’s nation-leading incarceration rates. Furthermore, we join people of every faith in the shared mission of delivering a justice system that is humane and treats our residents for what they are: flawed, but redeemable human beings.”
“To use a medical analogy, Oklahoma’s incarceration problem has become a cancer that has spread and now threatens all our vital organs. Whether it’s our economy, our schools, or the physical health of our residents, our broken criminal justice system is perpetuating a cycle of poverty and poor outcomes that must be corrected. State Question 805 may not be the cure, but is the start of an effective treatment.”
“Oklahoma’s culture of incarceration has been breaking apart families, trapping children in poverty, and holding our state back for decades. We have to break this cycle, and State Question 805 is a responsible, meaningful step forward that will make Oklahoma a better and more hopeful place to live and raise a family.”
“In the long term care profession, we are taught that every life has great value and every person has the right to live with dignity. That’s not just true for nursing home residents; it’s true for everyone. Unfortunately, many Oklahomans are seemingly written off, abandoned, and devalued by overly long prison sentences for non-violent offenses. State Question 805 helps to correct that and reflects a greater respect for the value of human life and dignity.”
“Oklahoma is long overdue in reforming our criminal legal system. We send people to prison for far too long and incarcerate our citizens like no other state in the nation. I appreciate the efforts of our elected officials but believe it’s incumbent on Oklahoma’s citizens to enact important reforms."
“Oklahoma has been one of the top states in its rate of female imprisonment for decades. Men and women in Oklahoma spend 79% longer for drug offenses and 70% longer for property offenses than the national average. Sentence enhancements are fueling Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. This ballot initiative will be a substantial step forward in reducing the number of extreme and unfair sentences in Oklahoma. A successful ballot initiative in 2020 will open the door in future years to continued reforms and additional opportunities to address Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis.”
“In spite of several important reforms in recent years, Oklahoma continues to funnel people into the prison system, trapping them in the revolving door of mass incarceration. We have so much knowledge about best practices and an understanding that prison often worsens recidivism rates and harms Oklahoma families and communities. While we’ve seen progress over the years, there is still an urgent need to do more. We need reforms that not only stop our continued prison growth, but that reduce the number of people currently held in our overcrowded, crumbling prisons and jails; many of whom are suffering rather than receiving access to the care they need and deserve. We know that the direct voices of Oklahoma voters are the most powerful way to encourage elected officials to embrace the structural changes we so desperately need. This ballot initiative continues the momentum created by voters in 2016 and reflects meaningful change to the criminal legal system that Oklahomans want and one that will serve communities across our state for the better.”
“When I was in the legislature, I voted for a lot of ‘tough on crime’ legislation that increased criminal penalties. I wish I hadn’t. As a member of the Oklahoma County Jail Trust Authority, I see the waste – in resources and human lives – those policies are costing us today. The only way to right this wrong and to deliver just and appropriate sentencing policies is to take the legislative politics out of this issue and pass meaningful reform by a vote of the people. That’s what SQ 805 does, and I will be proudly voting yes.”
“As a public defender, I can see everyday how overburdened our criminal justice system is with non-violent offenders who do not truly represent a danger to their communities or themselves. These are people that need support, rehabilitation and treatment. If we can invest in people rather than prisons, it will truly help to transform our state into a more prosperous and equitable place to live. That’s why I’m proud to support SQ 805.”
“I'm voting YES on SQ 805. By stacking years to a sentence for repeat nonviolent offenses we are saying, as a society, that we would rather our tax dollars be spent keeping a person in jail than doing the work of rehabilitation. Oklahoma has spent billions of our dollars being ‘tough on crime,’ and we lock up our citizens at a higher percentage of our population than the next 11 NATO countries COMBINED. Personally, I would rather our tax dollars be used on our roads and schools. If you would too, vote YES on SQ 805.”