Thursday, May 05, 2022

Small: Justice reform opponents prove disingenuousness

Justice reform opponents prove disingenuousness
By Jonathan Small

The issue of criminal-justice reform in Oklahoma has been debated for years, and state voters have increasingly warmed to the idea that we can reduce incarceration and associated prison costs, improve public safety, and lower our crime rates, all at the same time.

That reality is reflected in voter approval of a ballot initiative that reduced the penalties for some property and drug crimes. It can also be seen in the fact that that the Legislature passed an associated law applying those changes to individuals currently in prison, which resulted in the nation’s largest single-day community under Gov. Kevin Stitt.

That public support has been problematic for Stitt’s political opponents, however, which may be why some have resorted to extreme—and even laughable—tactics in their attack ads.

A recent TV ad funded by the so-called “Conservative Voice for America” attacked Stitt for the aforementioned commutations, ignoring the active role that voters took in the process.

What’s truly funny, though, is the lengths “Conservative Voice for America” had to go to in order to find “regular” Oklahomans who would be part of the ad criticizing Stitt. Turns out that at least one of those Oklahomans isn’t even an Oklahoman.

According to the Oklahoma City Sentinel, one individual featured in the “Conservative Voice for America” ad is Dale Scarberry. The Sentinel reported that Scarberry is not an Oklahoman at all. He lives in Texas. And he’s an actor.

Apparently, voters are supposed to believe that Stitt and his policies are very unpopular in Oklahoma even as his opponents have to leave the state and pay someone to get people to criticize Stitt on camera.

That’s quite an accomplishment—for Stitt. People typically line up two deep to criticize local politicians and are willing to do so for free.

This highlights how disingenuous and unserious “Conservative Voice for America” is about criminal-justice reform. Oklahomans began considering this issue long before Stitt was elected. The governor’s willingness to take a role in that effort is a sign of political courage and leadership.

Oklahoma has long incarcerated people for much longer sentences than what other states impose for the same crimes. Yet crime rates in Oklahoma have remained stubbornly higher than in those other, supposedly “soft on crime” states. Voters understand that something is amiss and have concluded that it is time to change our tactics.

The point of criminal-justice reform is not to simply reduce the prison population. It is to reduce the prison population while reducing the crime rate as well. Achieving that goal won’t be easy, and policy changes will likely be ongoing based on real-world results.

But Oklahomans have shown they are ready to try something different. If that upsets people who don’t live in Oklahoma, well, so be it.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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