Guest column: Oklahoma needs criminal justice reform; poll shows Republicans agree




  • In US
  • 2022-09-25 15:00:18Z
  • By The Oklahoman

There is an old adage in broadcast news: "If it bleeds, it leads." With nightly stories about crime in places like Chicago and St. Louis, one would expect voters to be clamoring for longer sentences and more incarceration, not to mention repealing past justice reforms. But Oklahomans haven't taken the bait, according to new polling data.

New survey research shows broad support for criminal justice reform in the Sooner State. Nearly three-quarters of Oklahomans (73%) believe it's important to reduce the jail or prison population in the state. And the voters are willing to back their beliefs up with political action. Voters are also more likely to support a candidate who wants to reform the criminal justice system by a margin of 5:1.

Handcuffs are attached to a security bar at the Oklahoma County jail.
Handcuffs are attached to a security bar at the Oklahoma County jail.  

Oklahoma has led the way nationally with improvements to the criminal justice system that strengthen community safety while carefully lowering incarceration rates, particularly for those who are not considered public safety threats. Reducing Oklahoma's prison population will allow the state to use savings for programs that cut recidivism, which is a significant driver of crime. Data shows Oklahoma has seen a reduction in violent crime, and the recidivism rate is now the lowest in the nation. Oklahomans from Gov. Kevin Stitt on down know a good thing when they see it, and the polling shows voters agree.

Common-sense improvements have reduced the state's prison population, increased community safety and saved taxpayer dollars. However, voters recognize more needs to be done - with four times as many Oklahomans saying the state needs to continue safely reducing the prison population than those who say reforms have gone too far.

The Oklahoma State Department of Corrections spends, on average, $26,616 per year per prisoner and has a ballooning budget of more than half a billion dollars. Recent legislative changes have helped cut the prison population and simultaneously seen the crime rate go down.

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