Criminal Justice

Four conservative principles behind criminal justice reform

July 30, 2020

Ryan Haynie

In the current political climate, it would be understandable to take a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” approach to criminal justice. It seems like everywhere you look, lawlessness abounds. Despite the current unrest, it would be a mistake for Oklahomans to abandon efforts to change the carceral system in our state. Below are four principles that push OCPA to lean into criminal justice reforms.

The first principle is limited government. According to the governor’s new dashboard, Oklahoma incarcerates 574 of every 100,000 citizens. That’s a disappointing 47th in the nation—significantly higher than the national average of 431 per 100,000 citizens. If you included the number of those who are currently under supervision, the number of Oklahomans under some type of control by the criminal justice system would jump significantly to 1,794 per 100,000 citizens.

By limiting government under the Stitt administration, Oklahoma has seen a decrease in the incarceration rate as well as in the rate of violent crime, nonviolent crime, and offender recidivism. There is much work to do to continue shrinking government in this arena, but the efforts that have already been implemented are working.

The second principle is personal responsibility. By being smart on crime, with programs like drug diversion courts, we help offenders stay accountable. Frequent checks to ensure offenders are drug- and crime-free inject real accountability. Prompt and proportional consequences make behavior change more likely than the incarceration model. Diversion courts are successful because they help Oklahomans take charge of their own success.

Another principle is that of free enterprise. Criminal codes—particularly those at the federal level—increasingly criminalize commercial activity that is best handled in civil courts. Federal and state antitrust laws can carry criminal, as well as civil, penalties for actions which the business owner may not have even known were unlawful. Healthcare providers are too often charged with Medicaid fraud for conduct that is better suited for a civil breach-of-contract action—resulting in higher healthcare costs for all Oklahomans.

Finally, the principle of individual initiative should drive us to reform our criminal justice system. We can, and should, expect many in the criminal justice system to abandon criminal activity and trade antisocial behavior for prosocial behavior. But before we can expect those changes, we have to provide some level of hope. According to a study conducted in 2019, 70% of Americans feel like the system is rigged. Providing hope for parole can result in improved inmate behavior. Hope of an expungement can improve recidivism statistics. As we enact the changes that provide hope for those involved in the criminal justice system, we can expect to see our fellow Oklahomans show the initiative we know they’re capable of.

You may notice that the four principles discussed above are the core principles of OCPA. OCPA advances policies that support those four principles in order to help all Oklahomans flourish. Criminal justice is no exception. If you find yourself questioning the motives of criminal justice reformers, remember these reforms probably promote free enterprise, limited government, individual initiative, and personal responsibility.