If the measure is approved, State Question 780 would reclassify certain offenses, such as simple drug possession and property crimes, as misdemeanors rather than felonies. The reclassification of the drug possession offense is intended to be applied to persons who use the drugs, not to those who are selling or manufacturing the drugs. The measure also would change the dollar amount threshold for property crimes charged as felonies from $500 to $1,000.
The goal of this measure is to reduce the size of the state’s prison population and to reduce the amount of state funds being spent on prisons. SQ 780 proposes to change Oklahoma statutes, not the constitution.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice in 2014, Oklahoma had the second highest incarceration rate in the nation at 700 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents. Oklahoma also had the highest incarceration rate for women that year. The total correctional population of a state includes people incarcerated and on probation or parole.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections indicated in August 2016 that the prison system was at 104 percent of its capacity with 27,097 inmates being held. Drug offenders comprise 26.3 percent of inmates. Another 23.3 percent of inmates are imprisoned for other nonviolent crimes. According to the Oklahoma DOC 2015 annual report, the Oklahoma prison population has increased by 22.6 percent since 2006. In fiscal year 2016, the Oklahoma legislature appropriated $485 million to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
If the measure is approved, the changes proposed would not be retroactive. Sentences for current inmates would not change.
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PROPONENTS SAY: YES
- If the measure is approved, SQ 780 would result in reduced prison populations, which would reduce costs to taxpayers.
- Treating drug addicts through appropriate rehabilitation and mental health services is more effective than placing them in jail or prison. The prison system does little to equip drug offenders to successfully re-enter society, which increases their chances of recidivism.
- Misdemeanor charges would carry a punishment of up to one year in jail. Prosecutors would continue to have discretion as to whether to pursue a drug case as simple possession or as possession with intent to distribute.
OPPONENTS SAY: NO
- Reducing the charges for possession of drugs, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin, along with date rape drugs, (from a felony to a misdemeanor) could endanger the citizens of the state. There are certain situations in which the possession of drugs, especially more powerful substances, needs to be considered a felony.
- If the measure is approved, county jail populations could increase from the number of misdemeanor offenders being charged. County jails are not adequately equipped or funded to handle an increase in jail population.
- Eliminating felony possession charges would reduce the incentive for those charged with drug crimes to complete treatment programs and would weaken prosecutors’ leverage in cases involving more serious offenses.
This measure amends existing Oklahoma laws and would change the classification of certain drug possession and property crimes from felony to misdemeanor. It would make possession of a limited quantity of drugs a misdemeanor. The amendment also changes the classification of certain drug possession crimes which are currently considered felonies and cases where the defendant has a prior drug possession conviction. The proposed amendment would reclassify these drug possession cases as misdemeanors. The amendment would increase the threshold dollar amount used for determining whether certain property crimes are considered a felony or misdemeanor. Currently, the threshold is $500. The
amendment would increase the amount to $1000. Property crimes covered by this change include; false declaration of a pawn ticket, embezzlement, larceny, grand larceny, theft, receiving or concealing stolen property, taking domesticated fish or game, fraud, forgery, counterfeiting, or issuing bogus checks. This measure would become effective July 1, 2017.