Criminal Justice

Jonathan Small | January 8, 2016

Free Market Friday: Learn from history

Jonathan Small

The saying goes, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” This describes many of humanity’s worst actions, especially against other humans.

In 2016, Oklahomans have the opportunity to learn from history and change course for the better regarding criminal justice policy. Oklahomans are known for many good things, but unfortunately we are also known for some of the worst incarceration levels. We normally lead the nation in the incarceration of women and rank high in the incarceration of men. The price we pay for our damaging and failed policy for non-violent offenders is massive.

Our “tough on crime” approach towards substance abusers or property crimes has caused our prison population to increase by more than 400 percent over the last few decades. The result has been that Oklahomans who just needed help to make wiser decisions have now been dragged from society, and exposed to violent offenders and their influence. But the human harm doesn’t stop at the jailed non-violent offender. Thousands of those convicted of non-violent offenses have left their families worse off, with no income earner and no caregiver for dependents.

Our failed “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality is a direct cause of increased dependence on government and a higher burden on taxpayers. Our human service struggles, particularly as it results to child welfare, partly derive from the havoc over-incarceration has wreaked upon Oklahoma families. Our Medicaid and welfare rolls bear the result of children and other dependents who are stranded by over-incarceration. This combined cost exceeds $1 billion for taxpayers and our economy.

The great news is that Oklahomans are saying “Enough!” Job creators are speaking up about the need to shift away from incarcerating substance abusers and minor property violators. It’s time for more to join them.

There can be no excuses, 2016 is the year that Oklahomans and policymakers should place Oklahoma “on the map” for recognition for significant and innovative criminal justice reforms. It’s time for sentencing reforms that have immediate impact. It’s time for further reforms to professional licensing and motor vehicle licensing to free non-violent offenders to seek work and help both their families and Oklahoma’s economy. It’s time for civil protections from frivolous lawsuits for employers who employ non-violent offenders.

Let’s learn from history. Our future will suffer if we repeat it.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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