As work to expand the effects of changes to Oklahoma’s felony laws gains momentum, some law enforcement and reports have tried to stoke fears the changes would increase crime. Recent data however, doesn’t support the claims.
Oklahomans voted in favor of state question 780 in 2016. 780 reduced some low-level drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The question was a part of efforts from former Gov. Mary Fallin’s (R) administration to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system in an effort to reduce the state’s incarceration numbers. Currently, Oklahoma has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Shortly after the vote, advocates for harsher punishments and some law enforcement officials began saying reducing sentences will increase property crimes and send a new flow of illegal drugs into schools.
However, recent numbers from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation show crime rates for those crimes fell by close to six percent in 2017 compared to 2016. The numbers for 2018 were not available.
The decline in Oklahoma’s numbers also mirrors what’s been seen nationally. 23 of the 28 states that changed their laws saw a reduction in similar crimes, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.
Efforts to refute fears about 780 come as work is being done to expand the state question. Early last month advocates took to the capitol to urge lawmakers to pass a bill to make the changes retroactive.
“It is far easier to be against something than to stand up and to stop all of the loose talk that talks about why we can't do it. All the falsehoods all those things that prevent us from grabbing hold of this issue,” Sen. George Young (D-OKC) said at a press conference Feb. 1.
The bill, House Bill 1269, to make the changes retroactive has passed out of committee and is now heading to the House floor.