Why SQ 805 fearmongering is false

Criminal Justice

Trent England | October 31, 2020

Why SQ 805 fearmongering is false

Trent England

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.

Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England

David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

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