Oklahoma shows Issue 1’s promise for Ohio
Posted October 25, 2018 in Press Releases
After sentencing reform, felony filings dropped, crime didn’t rise
In 2016, Oklahomans voted to reclassify low-level drug possession and property crime from felonies to misdemeanors and direct the savings toward rehabilitative services. Since the law took effect, felony cases have dropped dramatically, setting the state on a path to lower incarceration rates without an increase in crime, according to a new report by the Oklahoma Policy Institute and Policy Matters Ohio.
Oklahoma’s amendment mirrors Issue 1, which Ohio voters will decide this November. State Question 780 reclassified drug possession and low-level property crime from felonies to misdemeanors. State Question 781, a companion ballot initiative, directed the state government to calculate the savings of those measures through lower incarceration and distribute that money to counties to fund mental health, substance abuse, and other rehabilitative services. Oklahoma 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.
SQ 780 and 781 took effect July, 2017. During the first year, felony filings dropped 29 percent. Misdemeanor filings have increased by 14 percent.
“In 2016 Oklahoma had the highest incarceration rate in the nation. Low-level drug offenses and property crimes were among the most common charges filed by district attorneys,” said Director of Open Justice Oklahoma, at OK Policy, Ryan Gentzler. “The huge drop in felony filings shows we’re heading in the right direction.”
Total crime in Oklahoma fell by nearly 4 percent between 2016 and 2017. Nonviolent crime dropped by more than 3 percent. Rates of petty larceny, which is covered by SQ 780, fell since it was implemented.
OK Policy estimates SQ 780 will save the state nearly $45 million over first six years. Those savings haven’t been realized yet because Oklahoma’s reclassifications are not retroactive, Gentzler said. Under Ohio Issue 1, people with low-level drug possession felony convictions will see their convictions modified to misdemeanors. Policy Matters Ohio estimates Issue 1 will redirect $136 million from state prison spending to community-based programs a year.
“With Issue 1, Ohio has the chance to build on what Oklahoma has done,” Gentzler said. “We’d like retroactive reclassification so more people can free themselves from the baggage of a felony conviction. Ohio has the chance to help thousands of people rejoin society. I hope you take it.”
The OK Policy team penned an open letter encouraging Ohioans to vote for Issue 1. Read it here.