Oklahoma Voters Back Criminal Justice Reform, Addiction Treatment Funding

By Seth Ferranti 11/11/16

State officials are on a mission to reduce the prison population and reinvest the savings into addiction and mental health treatment.

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Oklahoma Voters Back Criminal Justice Reform, Addiction Treatment Funding

Voters in Oklahoma have approved State Questions 780 and 781, ballot measures that will allocate the money saved from a reduction in penalties for drug and property crimes to fund mental health and addiction treatment programs, the Associated Press reports.

The County Community Safety Investment Fund has been created to finance Community Rehabilitative Programs that will serve to expand services for those with addiction and mental health issues.

The passage of these measures changes certain drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and increases the level of felony property crimes from $500 to $1,000. With the second-highest incarceration rate in the U.S. in 2014, Oklahoma is entering a period of criminal justice reform.

By reducing the number of individuals funneled into prisons, Oklahoma can divert the money saved to the community, helping people stay out of prison in the first place. The new measure will also help to unburden Oklahoma’s dilapidated and overcrowded correctional facilities, which hold more than 27,000 prisoners.

“Today, Oklahoma’s voters have spoken loud and clear: it’s time to take a smarter approach to public safety and finally reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system,” said Kris Steele, former Oklahoma Speaker of the House.

“Because of the tremendous support we’ve received from Oklahomans everywhere, Oklahoma will take a major step toward reducing our prison population and investing in rehabilitation and treatment services to address the root causes of crime and better invest in public safety. This new approach is good for taxpayers, is good for small businesses, is good for public safety, and is good for families,” said Steele.

Steel and his colleagues believe they can reduce the number of felonies and save the state money with fewer people in prison. By putting money into programs that help people help themselves, the policymakers believe they can save more money in the long run.

Housing an inmate in Oklahoma costs up to $75 a day. Once convicted, a drug user gets a permanent felony record—a stigma in itself. Prevention is a much more cost-effective method. Solve the problem before it starts. Save lives. Change futures. 

A 2012 report found that growth in the state's prison system was driven by longer prison terms and low parole rates. The way the system was set up, inmates cycle in and out of the system.

By reforming these draconian polices and spending money where it's more effective—in prevention measures—voters in Oklahoma are taking a step forward, firmly away from the War on Drugs mentality that has pervaded politics in this country. 

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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