Oklahoma group pushing for state question will stop collecting signatures amid COVID-19 outbreak

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A group that is pushing for the end of sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenses announced that it will suspend all public activities amid concerns about the novel coronavirus.

In December, Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform announced the launch of the ‘Yes on 805’ campaign and a 90-day signature collection period for State Question 805.

Organizers say State Question 805 is a criminal justice reform measure that would end the use of sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenses, and it would allow inmates who have already received an extreme sentence to petition the court for relief.

Sentence enhancements often add additional prison time for repeat offenders.

“Oklahoma has an incarceration crisis,” said Sarah Edwards, president of Yes on 805. “This crisis separates families, damages communities and hurts our state’s chances of success. For several years, legislators have tried to pass legislation that would rein in sentence enhancements and reduce extreme sentences. These efforts have failed despite widespread support from state leaders and Oklahoma voters. This campaign is a continuation of recent criminal justice reform efforts, acknowledging that much more still needs to be done to address this crisis.”

Organizers say that compared to the national average, the sentences for people in Oklahoma are 79% longer for drug crimes and 70% longer for property crimes.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said he opposes the proposed state question.

“Trying to put this into our state’s constitution, it peels back enhancements for DUIs, human trafficking, domestic violence, some of the things I don’t think we need to put into our constitution,” Stitt said.

For several months, the campaign has been working to collect 177,958 signatures in order to put the measure on the 2020 ballot.

Although the deadline for signatures is March 25, organizers said they are taking precautions amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Effective immediately, Yes on 805 will suspend all of its public activities, including signature gathering. The health and safety of our signature collectors and the public at large is our number one priority. We are doing our part to protect and support our communities by taking steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Edwards. “We’re confident in the status of the campaign and the strength of our movement, and look forward to fulfilling the will of Oklahoma voters by filing the signatures needed to put State Question 805 on the 2020 ballot.”

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