Sentencing reform and the death penalty in Oklahoma

thinktwice logoVote No On SQ 776

By Rev. Don Heath,
with the Vote No on SQ 776 campaign

The criminal justice system in Oklahoma is broken. A bipartisan effort to get tough on crime and impose harsh sentences has increased our prison population from 7,000 in 1983 to 28,000 today. Forty-seven percent of state prisoners are African American, Latino and Native American.

Nationally, incarceration rates have declined each year since 2009, but Oklahoma’s rate continues to climb. We are second among all states in the incarceration rate for adults, trailing only Louisiana, and first in incarcerating women, at nearly double the national average. More than one prisoner in six is over the age of 50.

Oklahoma is going the wrong way. A bipartisan effort has begun to reduce harsh sentences. Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition led by former Speaker Kris Steele, has gotten two initiative petitions on the November ballot to declassify all sentences for drug possession to misdemeanors, and to earmark the savings in incarceration costs to drug treatment and rehab. They are focusing on nonviolent crime.

The Vote No On SQ 776 Campaign (ThinkTwiceOK.com) addresses the other end of the spectrum, involving those who prosecutors and politicians like to call monsters, the worst of the worst. The death penalty is the crown jewel of retributive justice. It is used to justify harsh sentences at every other level.

We believe that all life is sacred and that every person is made in the image of God, even the 49 men sitting on death row. We transcend our moral authority when we take human life. We believe in a God of second chances, who does not destroy people because of the worst moment in their lives.

State Question 776 goes the wrong way. It seeks to amend the Bill of Rights in the Oklahoma Constitution to limit the interpretation of cruel and unusual punishment to expressly include capital punishment. The Bill of Rights is intended to limit the power of government, not to justify the most extreme punishment used by government.

State Question 776 is unnecessary. The Oklahoma Legislature in 2015 amended the death penalty statute to allow the state to execute condemned prisoners by lethal injection, nitrogen hypoxia, electrocution or firing squad, by whatever means is available. This statute goes farther than any other state. The Tea Party legislative faction believes it can improve upon the Eighth Amendment and has asked Oklahoma voters to ratify their effort by approving Stare Question 776.

If you also believe that the retributive criminal justice system is broken, please join our campaign to stop State Question 776. Visit our website at thinktwice.org, or contact Connie Johnson or Don Heath, President and Treasurer, Say No to SQ 776 campaign committee.