Last week, Governor Kevin Stitt pardoned 462 people serving in Oklahoma prisons. The commutation was the largest in U.S. history and represented a combined 1,931 remaining years in prison. The mass release reduced Oklahoma’s prison population by 1.7%. There are around 300 others still in prison that could be released in the near future.
All those released were being held on non-violent offenses, according to the governor’s office. Drug possession with intent to distribute was the most common reason they were in the pokey. Up until the jailhouse was opened up, the Sooner State led the nation in percent of population in jail (1% of the population). The mass pardon is the result of the passage of SQ# 780 and 781 two years ago when voters approved decriminalizing and recategorizing several felonies. SQ 780 and 781 have proven to have done exactly the opposite of what they said they wanted to do — lower crime. Three observations:
First, a mass commuting of sentences is not without risks. It is risky for the Governor politically, but it is also risky for the Oklahoma population at large. Many of those released last week root issue is substance addiction. Handing them $50 and telling them to stay clean is not going to work. The state should have developed a support infrastructure, partnering with faith based agencies, before emptying the slammer. Thirty-one years ago, in the 1988 presidential election, Vice President George HW Bush used Governor Michael Dukakis’ approval of a weekend furlough program that resulted in convicted felon Willie Horton assaulting and raping a young women to paint Dukakis as soft on crime. When elected leaders fail to keep the populace safe because of insane policies, they usually pay the price at the ballot box.
Second, Oklahoma’s crime rate is already on the rise. In a recent FBI report, Oklahoma ranked as the third least safe state in the county. As a direct result of the reclassification of some felonies (780 and 781), burglary is up substantially. Oklahoma’s rate of crimes to ‘property’ are five times the national rate and that is before the ‘I’ll fly away’ of 462 people this week. If a thief knows they will not be prosecuted for stealing, they will steal. The felony most often associated with drug addiction is crimes against property- stealing to get money to buy drugs.
Third, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is deplorable. That doesn’t mean those in Oklahoma prisons shouldn’t be there. They are not there unjustly. They broke the law and were tried and found guilty by a jury of their peers. It means Oklahoma (government and private sector) has failed to provide help for addicts and those suffering with mental illness, but the answer is not emptying the jails to lower crime. Educating the overall population may help, but in most case the criminal just becomes smarter.
The fact is mankind is in slavery to sin and until God brings about a change of heart in the criminal/addict, no amount of feel good programs will work. In the meantime, hardworking Oklahomans better start securing personal property. There is now an average of six formerly jailed felons per county back on the street. We better pray they were ‘reformed’ in prison and not just taught to play the slide trombone.
Steve Fair is Chairman of the 4th district of the Oklahoma Republican Party. He can be reached by phone at (580) 252-6284 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.