Recent claims made by some businesses and law enforcers about a purported increase in petty thefts undoubtedly were made to undermine criminal justice reforms.
The problem is there is no credible evidence to support these false claims of an uptick in misdemeanor criminal activities. Reports of theft in Oklahoma have been declining nearly a decade now, and that trend appears to be continuing even after voters enacted changes that increased the threshold value for grand larceny and reduced several low-level nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.
The Pew Charitable Trusts' data indicate the felony theft threshold value set by a state has no significant effect on crime rates. That threshold value, however, has a significant impact on a state's incarceration rate, and Oklahoma still locks its residents at twice the per capita rate than the nation and higher than every state except Louisiana.
But data compiled by Oklahoma Policy Institute show criminal justice reforms overwhelmingly supported by Oklahoma voters are turning the tide with regard to the state's incarceration crisis. The number of charges related to felony property crime dropped 29 percent from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018, and the number of larcenies reported trended downward.
This means there are fewer Oklahomans who have to deal with the costs and negative consequences of a felony charge or conviction, which can curb educational and economic opportunities. Research has shown harsh punishment does "little to deter crime and can even increase the likelihood of recidivism."
While some may see localized crime spikes in certain areas, we must guard against jumping to conclusions. There are many complex factors that can cause a spike in crime, and quickly identifying a reason is difficult and certainly not worth turning back the clock on what has been accomplished.
It is why it is disappointing to see some naysayers spread misleading and false information in an attempt to undermine the success that has been realized in our attempt to reform the criminal justice system in this state. Oklahoma cannot afford to return to its punitive ways — we urge those who were wise enough to support reforms to ignore false cries in the night.