This fall voters will be asked to approve two state questions; SQ 780 and SQ 781. SQ 780 would reduce a number of property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and SQ 781 is the funding mechanism should SQ 780 pass.
Under a liberal federal administration there has been over the last several years, an increased push for state and local governments to adopt a philosophical view that says the justice system is too harsh on lower level and/or non violent criminal offenders. Therefore we should strive to focus less on incarceration and punishment for these criminals and more on treatment and diversion programs for them. The end result they propose is a system that lowers prison populations and rehabilitates lower level offenders into productive citizens.
Sounds good, but does it work? The results at this point appear to be mixed. Prison populations are down but lower level property crimes and larcenies are way up. Is the increase the result of lowered penalties? Common sense would say yes.
Drug courts have been very successful nationwide and have been impacted. Drug court offers an individual a unique opportunity, rather than accept a prison sentence that carries several years of incarceration many offenders are offered the opportunity to spend one year in a drug court program with strict mandatory drug testing, behavioral constraints, and mandatory court appearances. Any failure sends the offender off to prison to serve their sentence. Those that successfully complete the program have one year of drug abstinence behind them, they have begun to repair their family relations, and have found employment. A majority choose not to return to crime and drugs. This is significant as one hard fast rule in drug treatment and counseling is that if the person hasn't hit rock bottom they usually are not ready to allow the treatment and counseling to take hold.
Proposition 47 passed in California in 2014 and the Drug Court system participation plummeted by 50% in L.A. County. Without the threat of a significant prison sentence hanging over the criminal's head there is little incentive to go through the tough Drug Court program and many just pay the fines and sit in jail for a few weeks before returning to their life of drugs and petty crime to support the drug habit. Drugs are not cheap and the majority of drug users do not have a steady jobs so they tend to burglar homes, pass bad checks, defraud pawnshop owners with stolen goods, steal items for scrap metal, bilk homeowners after passing as legitimate contractors, or stealing from family members.
Oklahoma County is among many counties in Oklahoma that have successful diversion programs other than Drug Courts: Making Better Choices, Mental Health Court, Remerge for Women, Veterans Diversion, but all will suffer the same fate if SQ 780 passes.
Oklahoma does incarcerate a lot of people but that doesn't tell the entire story. Actual prison time for a first offender is very rare. Low level offenders receive suspended or deferred sentences the majority of the time and actual prison sentences are handed down only after it becomes clear that the offender continues to break the law. Even then The Department of Corrections calculates prison time served after giving a lot of credit for good behavior. If an inmate behaves, stays out of trouble, and follows the program they will get two day's time served credit for every day served. A three month sentence means they are out in 30 days, and usually the time they spent sitting in County jail before their trial is deducted before they start computing the two to one time served credit! Then there are extra credits for completing programs or courses, meritorious credits for preserving property and preserving safety or security, basically a reward for jail snitches and that credit is pegged at 100 days off the sentence per occurrence. When you hear about the 85% rule that is referring to violent crimes like murder, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, child molestation, or drug trafficking.
The deterrence factor of prison in Oklahoma is already on life support and when you add the effects of SQ 780 to the taxpayer funded pre trial release programs where criminals aren't even required to pay a bondsman or hire their own attorney you have a system where low level crimes will skyrocket.
Worse is that misdemeanor offenses are not accepted in Drug Courts so the offenders don't have access to the Department of Mental Health's substance abuse programs.
What crimes will be lowered from felonies to misdemeanors if SQ 780 passes?
- Possession of a a controlled and dangerous substance (drugs)
- Grand larceny under $1,000.00
- Receiving or concealing stolen property under $1,000.00
- Taking domesticated fish or game less than $1,000.00
- Oil field theft under $1,000.00
- Shoplifting of items under $1,000.00
- Embezzlement under $1,000.00
- Defrauding an innkeeper under $1,000.00
- Obtaining money or property by false pretenses under $1,000.00
- Uttering two or more bogus checks under $1,000.00
- False declaration to a pawn broker under $1,000.00
- Forgery under $1,000.00
How has this worked for California after they reduced the same felonies to misdemeanors?
- 13,000 inmates immediately released from prison as their crimes had been reduced to misdemeanors
- Prison population is down 3.8%
- Jail population is down 11.7%
- Tens of thousands of previously convicted felons have had their felonies removed from their records
- Property crime is up 8%
- Auto theft us up 20%
- Violent crime is up 27% http://watchdog.org/213144/california-crime-rate/
- Drug arrests are down by 30%
- Drug Court attendance dropped by 50%
- Out of 2,200 drug offenders in one eight month period, only 73 entered some sort of drug rehab
In a story about the side effects of lowering felonies to misdemeanors one career criminal that has been arrested 16 times under Proposition 47 had this to say according to the L.A. Times:
Sina said he rejoiced when he first heard about Proposition 47. He said he didn't start stealing bicycles until the proposition raised the threshold for a felony theft to $950.
"Proposition 47, it's cool," Sina said. "Like for me, I can go do a [commercial] burglary and know that if it's not over $900, they'll just give me a ticket and let me go."'
He was sentenced to rehab five times this year but did not show up for a single session."
The people driving this state question are the same actors that wanted the JRI program; Oklahoma County D.A. David Prater, former Speaker Kris Steel, the State Chamber of Commerce, and Oklahoma City and Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. It all comes back to siphoning money from the prison system and from the judicial system into lucrative publically paid but private counseling and treatment centers. Indeed, SQ 780 requires that the "savings" be calculated after a while and that amount of "savings" be ripped from the prison, jail, and court system and funneled into these moneymaking private programs.
We also don't want to forget that Oklahoma County D.A. David Prater was working with former Speaker Kris Steel to pass the JRI to provide a post term limit job for Kris Steel, and isn't that what Pater alleged Senator Leftwich and Rep. Terrill were doing after he filed felony charges against them? This is no different; Kris Steel's TEAM organization will receive millions of dollars from SQ 781 if the two state questions pass. Then the unending cycle of "need" will require more tax increases or diversions back into the prison system and justice system once taxpayer money is stripped away into these privately owned programs.
And one of the worst aspects of SQ 780 is that it removes the increased penalty for possession of drugs near a school or in the presence of a child under 12 years old. Let's all say hello to our old friend the neighborhood school drug pusher.