Having previously served in Law Enforcement for twenty years and serving the last seven years as the Executive Director of a Drug Court Program, I have concerns relating to State Questions 780 and 781. These questions are said to be a step in the right direction to ease prison overcrowding, and this is simply not true.
State Question 780 is designed to change certain drug and theft related crimes from Felonies to Misdemeanors, with the hopes of reducing prison overcrowding and to save money. The major parts to this are (1) raise the threshold from $ 500.00 to $ 1,000.00 before it becomes a felony and (2) ALL drug possession cases would be classified as Misdemeanor’s regardless of whether they were arrested for it one time or thirty.
I have no doubt in a year or two the results will reflect that crime is down, but the simple fact is, all that is being done is you’re moving crimes that are currently reported as Felonies (Column “A”) to Misdemeanor’s (Column “B”). This will make a difference because Felony Crimes are reported or indexed and that is what is referred to when we hear about Crime Stat’s going up or down. Misdemeanor Crimes are not reported or indexed therefore anything that is re-classified as a Misdemeanor will not be reported to the public leaving only one option, Crime STATS not Crimes will go down.
It has been proven over the years that drug related crimes are usually the beginning for additional crimes being committed against the Children, Citizens and Business People of the State of Oklahoma. These Crimes include Burglary, Domestic Abuse, Embezzlement, Forgery, Larceny, Homicide and many others.
Another detrimental effect of the passage of this State Question will be Drug Courts. Drug Courts currently have a very good success rate with people who are sentenced under a felony charge and ordered to attend a Drug Court Program. If this State Question passes, Drug Courts will be in jeopardy of having to cease to provide services to those with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders, since most of the drug related crimes will then be classified as Misdemeanors.
While the aim is to assist in reducing the number of people in the Prison System, this State Questions is NOT the answer. All we are doing is reclassifying crimes, and removing the chance for people to be offered or able to attend Community Programs such as Drug Courts.
State Question 781 is the second arm, or the financial arm of this process, and leaves the calculation of cost savings to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services for the State of Oklahoma. However, there will be no guidance on how the calculation should be made or who will receive / control the funds so it can be used for the benefit of people with Substance Abuse and Mental Health disorders.
Drug Courts cost an average of $ 5,500.00 per participate with the State paying a part of that. However, due to recent years’ budget cuts they pay much less than they did five years ago and require more standards.
The passage of State Questions 780 and 781 will do more harm than good as they stand now, for people who require Substance Abuse and Mental Health assistance as well as the Citizens of the State of Oklahoma.
There has only been one candidate come and speak with me concerning Drug Courts, to learn a little about what we do here and how the Drug Court System works during a time which this problem should be at the forefront.
I urge a “NO” vote on these State Questions