A recent column by Steve Fair alleged that State Questions 780 and 781 have caused Oklahoma’s higher-than-average crime rates. The data say otherwise.
Almost of all the crime figures listed by Fair in the article are violent crimes. These figures have nothing to do with SQ 780 and 781, which addressed nonviolent, low-level property and drug offenses and in no way affect prisoners who have committed what are currently legally classified as violent crimes.
He claims that SQ 780 and 781 are causing a rise in crime but provides no evidence. The data actually show that SQ 780 is working. Felony convictions and reports of property crime have both decreased since the state questions went into effect. There were more than 10,000 fewer reported larcenies in 2018 than seven years ago.
Changing certain crimes to misdemeanors doesn’t encourage more crime. The 39 states, including Oklahoma, that have raised their felony theft thresholds in the past decade have seen no significant change in property crime and larceny.
Fair makes the point that crime follows poverty and that “poor people prey on poor people.” This is an irresponsible and insensitive generalization. The solution is not to give Oklahomans excessive sentences for addiction-driven crimes, but to focus on rehabilitation services and mental health treatment provided with funding from SQ 781.
Oklahomans deserve evidence-based justice, not fear-mongering. The solution to Oklahoma’s crime rates does not lie in undermining the decision made by Oklahoma voters to take control of their own criminal justice system.
Ryan Gentzler and Damion Shade, Tulsa
Ryan Gentzler and Damion Shade are policy analysts with the Oklahoma Policy Institute.