Next month, Oklahoma voters will decide whether or not to amend the state’s constitution through State Question 805 (SQ 805), which would end sentence enhancements for nonviolent criminals. 

These enhancements are add-ons that can be piled on top of the base sentence, and are often used to terrify defendants into plea deals. They also put people away in Oklahoma for excessive periods of time far beyond the sentencing guidelines for their offense, and most of these are nonviolent drug offenses. Taxpayers pay the price, and public safety does not benefit. 

SQ 805 has come under fire. However, because of what crimes count as violent versus nonviolent. But that is already determined in Oklahoma law, the question simply uses the existing classification list.   

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) recently posted a helpful article available here, that provides a useful reality check:

“In 1984, the legislature, in an effort to fix the problem, passed the Oklahoma Prison Overcrowding Emergency Powers Act. . . It could begin releasing inmates who had served most of their sentence until DOC[capacity] was back below 95%.”

The Act was repealed in 2001 by Gov. Frank Keating after three private prisons were awarded contracts in the state, but the list of violent offenses in the Act is continued in the language of SQ805:

“This is important: the list was originally designed to keep certain offenders from early release. Similarly, SQ 805’s effect on so-called “sentence enhancements” excludes the crimes listed in the statute.” … 

“The naysayers would have you believe that people who commit crimes not on the list will be treated as a first-time offender every time. That is simply untrue. The sentencing range is designed to account for things like criminal history.”

You can read the full article at OCPAthink.org.