If you want a good scare this Halloween, review claims by SQ 805 opponents. “Disaster.” “Blood on the streets.” “Crime rates will skyrocket.” But all this is blatantly false, and I can prove it.
Yes, I can prove it.
First, I should say that well-meaning people can disagree on policy proposals, including criminal justice reform measures like SQ 805. But claims that the sky will fall if SQ 805 passes are absurd. Why?
Because SQ 805 would change Oklahoma law to be like the law in many other states, and like federal law. It would roll back part of a law passed in 1999. In other words, our own state’s recent history and experience in other states and the federal system offer an easy look at the effect SQ 805 will have.
This is how reasonable policy analysis works. You compare and contrast and learn. Sometimes the answer is ambiguous. Not in this case.
The federal sentencing enhancement law applies only to a handful of the most serious felonies—it is much more limited than current law in Oklahoma, more like what the law will be if SQ 805 passes. When states began passing sentencing enhancement laws in the 1990s, they typically limited them in the very way that SQ 805 would do here (this DOJ report compares these laws). Across the border in Arkansas, their sentencing enhancement statute does not cover most assault or domestic violence crimes, but only things like murder, rape, robbery, first-degree battery, and similar offenses. The same is true across the country, including in states like Florida, Georgia, and even Louisiana.
Maybe we don’t want to be like those states, and that’s fine. But with the exception of Louisiana, all have lower incarceration rates. Many also have lower crime rates. None are post-apocalyptic wastelands with hordes of drug-addled criminals roaming the streets.
Many states with laws similar to what SQ 805 would do also manage to put people in prison for shorter sentences while maintaining safer communities. This is a fact, and it disproves the anti-SQ 805 scaremongering. It also should spur all Oklahomans to reconsider our reliance on prison as a one-size-fits-all, the-longer-the-better approach to dealing with crime.