I’m a District Attorney and I support SQ 805

Allan Grubb
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

I can understand my colleagues’ concern about criminal justice reform.

As district attorneys, we are tasked with the weighty responsibility of protecting our communities. We want to keep our citizens safe and our society just. Naturally, there are those worried that any criminal justice reform will make that task harder — not easier.

But SQ 805 doesn’t limit our ability to be just — it merely changes our default approach to crime and punishment.

And I hope we can all agree that our default isn’t working. Our tendency to lay down years or decades in response to minor offenses has led to an incarceration crisis that has turned into a health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Oklahomans serve sentences that are 70% longer for property crimes and 79% longer for drug crimes compared to the national average. Our current system is failing our communities and hurting our families.

I feel it’s important to clarify a few important elements of State Question 805 and explain why this policy change will help all Oklahomans.

First, SQ 805 will not limit our discretion in prosecution. SQ 805 does not lower the minimum or maximum sentence for any crime. We can still charge and seek prison sentences that we think are just and appropriate.

Second, SQ 805 will not affect misdemeanor enhancements. We will still be able to seek felony convictions and prison sentences. In addition, the elimination of the enhancement only applies to other prior nonviolent convictions.

Finally, SQ 805 will not harm domestic violence survivors. Domestic abuse is a serious issue and I am committed to survivors’ safety and healing process. But our current approach is not working and has led to an incarceration crisis that is hurting victims more than it is helping them. State Question 805 will still allow us to seek maximum sentences or decide to charge perpetrators of abuse with a violent offense. It gives us the best chance to reduce extreme prison sentences and divert scarce resources to treatment and resources for victims of crime.

SQ 805 is the best next step to continue safely reducing our prison population. It could save us nearly $186 million over the next decade, which could be re-invested in rehabilitative resources for low-level, nonviolent offenders. Strategies like drug court and rehab have worked to reduce crime and strengthen the community in my district — and can work in other places, too.

Oklahoma’s long sentences are increasing prison spending without making us any safer and we can’t point to a single study that says otherwise. It’s time to embrace SQ 805. It’s time for reform.

— Allan Grubb is District Attorney for District 23, Pottawatomie and Lincoln Counties.