Criminal Justice

SQ 805 analysis shows cost savings

June 17, 2020

Trent England

Criminal laws typically provide a sentencing range. In Oklahoma, a separate law allows sentences far longer than the standard range for many crimes—sometimes up to life in prison—if a person has prior convictions.

State Question 805 would limit this sentence enhancement to crimes that the Legislature has classified as violent. Repeat offenders could still be sentenced to the top range for their crime, and the Legislature could increase the range for particular crimes.

Some government attorneys claim that SQ 805 is unnecessary because the sentencing enhancement is used only in extreme cases. They suggest cost savings will be minimal.

OCPA analyzed these claims, using a sample of records from criminal convictions. The truth is that this sentencing enhancement is used in four out of five cases where it is available. This leads to sentences that are 36 percent longer, on average, than sentences without the enhancement. And even without the enhancement, the average sentence is nearly five years in prison.

Because this sentencing enhancement is so commonly used, and adds years to sentences for nonviolent offenders, passing SQ 805 would yield significant savings.

Our analysis shows SQ 805 should reduce Oklahoma’s prison population by 8.5% over the next 10 years. That would reduce state expenses between $45 million and $186 million, a broad range because much of the savings would result from closing antiquated facilities. A reasonable projection is that Oklahoma taxpayers would save about $142 million over a decade.