By Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, a reform advocate and the Founder and Executive Director of the Terence Crutcher Foundation
Published 10/25/2020 | Reading Time 2 min 2 sec
Oklahoma is the top incarcerator in the U.S. yet again, according to a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report. At some point, Oklahomans have to look at our overcrowded prisons and ask, “Is it worth it? And is this working?”
Unfortunately, these statistics are just a portion of years’ worth of research that shows Oklahoma’s methods of keeping criminals off the streets aren’t working, but only furthering recidivism and adding to the overcrowded prison system.
The “tough on crime” mentality is outdated and isn’t keeping Oklahoma safe. That’s why we need to vote ‘yes’ on State Question 805 on Nov. 3. It is a step in the right direction to help solve our state’s incarceration crisis. SQ 805 would end the practice of adding decades to a person’s sentence for previous nonviolent offenses.
As a reform advocate and the founder and president of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, I see these injustices constantly. In Oklahoma, Black people serve 35% longer sentences for drug crimes than any other group of people. This is made possible by the unjust use of sentence penalties.
Oklahoma has a long history of racial inequities that continue to permeate our criminal justice system. Oklahoma locks up more Black Americans than any other state. We know that Black and Brown people don’t commit crimes at a higher rate than white people, but they are disproportionately impacted by the discretion in our system, including the use of sentence penalties. SQ 805 would help to address these racial injustices.
The prison system was designed to keep the public safe, to hold people accountable and to rehabilitate them so they can return as contributing members of society. Yet we know that the system does not believe in redemption and it does not keep the public safe.
Excessive sentences punish people for acting out of sheer desperation to help their families and themselves. For example, one woman was sentenced to serve 15 years just for stealing basic necessities. Had she not had a previous conviction, her sentence would have been minuscule in comparison.
But the system punished this woman for a crime she had already served time for — not just for the crime she most recently committed.
This isn’t to say that SQ 805 will give anyone a free pass. Instead, it is saying that sentences should match the crime committed, not match the crime committed and impose additional decades for past crimes. We should focus more time and resources into rehabilitation to help people who act out of desperation, not force a disproportionate punishment onto them.
People convicted of a nonviolent crime will still face a just sentence. Prosecutors will still have discretion to seek the maximum sentence for a nonviolent crime and still hold people accountable.
Our current system is broken. It punishes people for far too long and wastes Oklahoma’s money and resources. This is a battle we need to fight. So pick up your ballot. Go to the polls. Vote. Vote ‘yes’ on State Question 805 to end an outdated, harmful practice and push back on inequity and injustice.