Criminal Justice

Staff | September 1, 2020

Open letter corrects the record on SQ 805, misuse of OCPA research


To the Office of the Governor,

We are writing to you today to correct several inaccuracies circulating about the State Question 805 ballot initiative.

It has come to our attention that some individuals are stating SQ 805 will allow sentencing relief for 83% of the entire Oklahoma prison population. This is factually untrue and an odd misinterpretation of the OCPA report the letter cites as its source. The report states that 83% of individuals who are eligible to apply for a modified sentence and early release are in prison for drug or property offenses. Those eligible represent far less than 83% of all inmates.

In reality, only an estimated 8% of Oklahoma’s overall prison population would be eligible for resentencing, just over 2,000 people. Of these 2,000 individuals, 83% (almost 1,700), are incarcerated for drug or property offenses and approximately 300 are in for all other crimes, including driving under the influence, possessing a firearm after a felony conviction, and all domestic abuse or other legally nonviolent person offenses combined.

Additionally, there are claims SQ 805 will “lessen penalties” for eligible nonviolent offenses. SQ 805 will not eliminate maximum sentences for any offense nor reduce or change the underlying sentence for any crime. It will continue to allow judges and juries to take previous crimes into account when sentencing. Legislators will still have power to add or remove crimes from the violent crime list or change the underlying sentence for any offense. That means if Oklahoma legislators decide that sentences are too short or too long for any charge, they have the power to make adjustments.

Finally, it is factually incorrect that SQ 805 will lessen penalties for child trafficking in any way. Human trafficking and trafficking of a child are violent crimes in Oklahoma. Anyone convicted of trafficking a child faces a mandatory minimum of 15 years and a maximum sentence of life. SQ 805 will not impact the sentencing range for trafficking a minor or make it more difficult to hold people accountable for this horrendous crime.

SQ 805 instead will prevent disproportionate punishments like the Oklahoma mom who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing kids’ necessities from Walmart, or the Army veteran who received a 17 year sentence for pawning a stolen laptop because each had nonviolent convictions in their past. It will further reduce the risk of prosecutors coercing plea bargains, impairing the rights of Oklahomans to a jury trial as guaranteed in the state and federal constitutions. Oklahoma’s repeat sentence penalties are direct contributors to the state’s high incarceration rate and lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent drug and property offenses. These penalties do not improve public safety but instead cost Oklahoma taxpayers millions and waste resources better spent on rehabilitation, substance abuse and job training programs.

Your administration inherited many challenges and has already improved Oklahoma’s carceral system. But there remains much to do. Oklahoma is in the bottom 10% of the country when it comes to incarcerating its citizens, and the carceral system disproportionately affects racial minorities and women. Your administration has also wisely prioritized foster care and the work of DHS. Excessive incarceration increases the problem of children in state custody or otherwise separated from their parents. The devastating effects on Oklahoma families and communities of overusing incarceration will be felt for decades unless something is done now to alleviate the problem.

The recent harassment of the McClosky couple in St. Louis, Missouri underscores the need to rein in the unfettered discretion prosecutors wield over citizens. Everyone wants to assume their local prosecutor will use that discretion for the greater good. But when people who defend their property and themselves amidst a riot are facing criminal charges and confiscation of their firearms, it highlights the need to see prosecutorial power as all other governmental power—in need of clear and effective limits.

Oklahomans support policies that promote limited government, free markets, individual initiative, and personal responsibility. SQ 805 advances these policy goals. It is a common-sense reform that will limit disproportionate sentences for nonviolent crimes, protect all Oklahomans from overzealous prosecutors, save taxpayer dollars, and help Oklahoma become a top ten state.


Jonathan Small
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Ryan Haynie
Criminal Justice Reform Fellow
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs

Trent England
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs


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