OKLAHOMA – Some Oklahoma prosecutors are speaking out against State Question 780, which would reduce drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
A person could be convicted over and over on a misdemeanor drug charge, and it would never become a felony.
“I will have a conversation with a family with a guy who’s been six times in the county jail for meth, and then he kills somebody. And, I will have to tell them, if the law hadn’t change, I might could have stopped this guy,” said District Attorney Greg Mashburn.
Former Speaker of the House Kris Steele is pushing the reforms and said treatment for drug addiction is much more effective than warehousing offenders.
“In states that have already implemented a variation of these reforms, they’ve actually experienced a reduction in crime and increase in public safety by addressing those core issues of addiction and mental illness,” Steele said.
Steele also points to the financial benefits, at a time when Oklahoma prisons are bursting at 112 percent capacity.
“It costs $19,000 a year to incarcerate an individual in our state. It costs $6,000 a year on average to provide treatment and supervision in the community,” Steele said.
Still, some prosecutors are skeptical.
“Treatment won’t be on their radar screen, because why would I do treatment? I can just do a few months in county and be back in my old habits,” Mashburn said.
Right now, nearly half of all people locked up in Oklahoma are considered non-violent offenders.
State question 780 would reclassify drug possession offenses as misdemeanors if it passes, and state question 781 would direct money saved from putting fewer people in prison to mental health treatment programs.