Analysis Projects $142M in Savings from Sentence Reforms, But Department of Corrections Disagrees

Jun 17, 2020

A conservative think tank is making the case for a ballot initiative that would do away with repeat offender sentence enhancements for nonviolent crimes.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs found enhancements were applied 80% of the time, despite district attorneys saying they’re used selectively. OCPA Executive Vice President Trent England said people convicted of petty crime or struggling with addiction shouldn’t go to prison for decades.

"If we can’t distinguish between those offenses and truly violent offenses like rape and murder, and we wind up sending people to prison for comparable sentences, that’s just unconscionable. But, unfortunately, some of our DAs as far as I can tell just don’t see it that way," England said.

OCPA estimates if voters pass State Question 805, the prison population will fall 8.5%  in the next decade, saving the state around $142 million, though the amount could range from $45 million to $186 million.

In a response to the analysis, however, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said a $24 million budget cut going into fiscal year 2021 will cancel out those savings for four and a half years.

DOC also said even if SQ805 passes, judges will still be able to hand down maximum punishments or consecutive sentences that will extend some inmates’ prison sentences, further cutting into potential savings.

David Safavian with the American Conservative Union said the will to pass SQ805 is there, pointing to federal legislation passed last year dealing with sentence reform.

"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," Safavian said.

Signatures to qualify SQ805 for the ballot are being reviewed.