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Advocates Say Oklahoma Felony Filings Down 26 Percent Since SQ780 Took Effect

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According to an analysis from Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, felony filings are down 26 percent since provisions of State Question 780 took effect July 1.

Over the past six months, prosecutors across the state have filed about 6,000 misdemeanor drug possession cases and 3,700 misdemeanor property crime cases. SQ780, which voters approved in 2016, reclassified most low-level drug and property offenses as misdemeanors.

ACLU Oklahoma Smart Justice Campaign Manager Nicole McAfee said that change has more impact than you might imagine.

"A lot of people kind of have a picture in their mind of who this affects, but when we look at the numbers here in Oklahoma, this affects so many families and so many everyday Oklahomans, people you interact with on a regular basis," McAfee said. "So, I think there are just an immeasurable amount of long-term outcomes in how this changes people’s ability to live their day-to-day life."

About one in 12 Oklahomans have a felony on their record, which can make it hard for them to get work, housing or public assistance.

Oklahoma Policy Institute, a member of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, performed the analysis. McAfee said the drop in felony filings is a good start, but discussions about decreasing the state’s prison population need to continue. 

"We have this growing per-capita incarcerated population. We still see the most women and black people per capita incarcerated of any state in the country," McAfee said.

The analysis also found drug distribution filings, which are still a felony, are up 18 percent over the same time period.

"When we see that there are still a number of possession with intent to distribute charges slowly increasing as those other felony charges decrease, we worry that especially our district attorneys are not helping, you know, embrace the will of the broader voting public," McAfee said.

ACLU Oklahoma said it will monitor drug distribution filings for potential abuses.

SQ781, passed in the same election as SQ780, requires the state calculate its savings on corrections spending caused by provisions of SQ780 and distribute that to counties for treatment programs. That will begin next fiscal year.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.