With love, from Oklahoma
Hello from Oklahoma! Being in different regions of the country, we don’t often have much interaction besides when the states are read in alphabetical order or when the Sooners play the Buckeyes (sorry about last year).
We have one important thing in common, though: smart, forward-thinking criminal justice reform.
Oklahoma voters passed two game-changing amendments in 2016 and now Ohio is poised to vote on State Issue 1.
For years, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate had been at or near the highest in the country. Harsh mandatory minimums and tough-on-crime laws led to simple drug possession being the most common charge for people in prison. As a state, we recognized that prison is not the way to help people with addiction and incarcerating so many people was costing us hundreds of millions of dollars. We couldn’t keep going like this. That’s why in 2016, the same election where 65 percent of voters supported President Trump, nearly 60 percent voted for State Questions 780 and 781, which reclassified drug possession and low-level property crime from felonies to misdemeanors. State legislators also passed laws that encouraged district attorneys to file more nonviolent felonies as misdemeanors and that raised the threshold for charging property crime as a felony.
So far, the reforms are working the way we hoped. Between July 2017, when they took effect, and July 2018, felony filings fell nearly 29 percent while misdemeanors rose by 14 percent. Overall crime rates have dropped slightly since 2016 – suggesting fears these reforms would embolden criminals were unfounded. Read our report published by Policy Matters Ohio for more details.
Ohio, it's time for you to act. Like Oklahoma, your incarceration rate is far above average, your prisons are badly overcrowded, and your drug overdose rates take far too many people ahead of their time. You have an opportunity this November to make transformational change that will save money and, more importantly, save lives.
In the 1980s and 1990s, America collectively embraced a draconian approach to addiction that targeted people of color and the poor. Entire communities were decimated by a system of mass incarceration that tore families apart. Whole swaths of the labor force are locked out of opportunity due to felony convictions. Lives were lost because as a society, we prioritized punishment over treatment.
There is a different way. We’re proving it in Oklahoma.
We can’t lie: We all cheered when we bested you last year on the football field. But in this case, we’re rooting for you and all the people who will be helped by Issue 1.
The Oklahoma Policy Institute team
PS: Hey Cleveland, how about that Baker Mayfield? You’re welcome.