Oklahoma has become a beacon of hope and progress in the realm of criminal justice reform. State policymakers have been working to address critical issues for the past decade, and in 2023, the state saw tangible successes that promise a brighter, more just future for all Oklahomans. From innovative housing solutions to groundbreaking community partnerships grounded in data driven solutions, Oklahoma is making strides in reforming its criminal justice system.
A Change in Attitude:
Our progress in criminal justice reform in Oklahoma stands as a testament to the power of non-partisan collaboration and collective action. None of OCJR’s recent policy wins would have been possible without the unwavering support of a diverse coalition of groups spanning the entire political spectrum. After years of advocacy from Oklahoma’s coalition, in 2023 state leaders advanced historic investments in mental health and pre-trial diversion, fines and fees reform, and reduced the collateral consequences of system involvement. State leaders also continue to implement Oklahoma’s remarkable Clean Slate legislation which is estimated to benefit over 100,000 Oklahomans when fully implemented. Working hand in hand with organizations that share OCJR’s commitment to justice has enabled us to approach reform from all angles, ensuring a comprehensive and inclusive strategy. Equally vital has been the extraordinary dedication of our wide base of volunteers, whose tireless efforts have amplified our impact on the ground. This year, our outreach efforts have been particularly noteworthy, with OCJR’s ads reaching an impressive 1 in 12 voting-age Oklahomans. This statistic not only reflects the broad resonance with OCJR’s message but it also underscores the growing number of Oklahomans who are eager to actively engage in advocacy and be catalysts for positive change in our criminal justice system. Together, we are shaping a more just and compassionate future for our state.
Polled Well for Future Criminal Justice Reform:
Polling conducted by Arnold Ventures and the Justice Action Network, shows that a majority of Oklahomans feel as safe, if not safer, as they did five years ago when the state of Oklahoma began implementing major public safety reforms that led to a reduction of the State’s prison population by at least 5,000 people resulting in the closure of three prison facilities.
More than half of voters reported they are not tired of hearing about criminal justice improvements, with 71% of voters stating that not enough is being done to change the system.
According to the WPAi poll, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly want solutions to reduce crime instead of increasing incarceration rates , including a plurality of voters (39%) who believe taxpayer dollars should be prioritized on mental health treatment within the justice system. Only 3 percent of polled Oklahoma voters favor increasing incarceration.
Public opinion has aligned with action in 2023. Lawmakers directed over 12 million dollars to Counties in Oklahoma for substance abuse and mental health treatment. Research shows that addiction treatment is cheaper and leads to better outcomes when compared to incarceration. The average cost of incarceration in Oklahoma is over 3x the cost of treatment. These treatment benefits are also proven to reduce crime. For example, each additional treatment facility reduces the cost of crime in a county by 4.2 Million annually on average. The RFP for funds is available to counties until December 31st.
Polled Well for Solutions to Homelessness:
In 2023, the Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR) began a collaboration with the Vera Institute for Justice to conduct research on the effects of limited housing options for individuals with a criminal record. OCJR has partnered with various reentry housing organizations to identify innovative solutions for Oklahoma. Additionally, we participated in an interim study with Prison Fellowship Ministries, the Vera Institute and other coalition partners. This study played a crucial role in educating legislators on the significant benefits of providing safe and affordable housing to those with a criminal history.
A recent Tulsa survey conducted by the Cicero Institute sheds light on the public's desire to find more sustainable solutions to resolving homelessness. Among the key findings, 74% of respondents expressed support for a ban on street camping if secure and well-equipped homeless shelters were made available away from residential areas. This demonstrates a strong community desire for effective and compassionate solutions.
Moreover, 60% of respondents believe that individuals suffering from severe mental illness should be compelled to enter healthcare settings for proper treatment and stabilization. For the past decade these treatment options have been consistently favored by Oklahoma voters over incarceration. This aligns with a growing recognition of the intersectionality between mental health, homelessness, and the criminal legal system.
Oklahoma City and Tulsa are also taking decisive steps to address homelessness. The opening of a permanent winter shelter by the Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City is a testament to the commitment of providing immediate relief to the unhoused population, ensuring a safe space during the winter months. Improving housing access as a public safety strategy is already paying dividends in Oklahoma.
Community Led Efforts Continue:
The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority is hosting an December 15th Warrant Clearing Event marks the third in a series that has already helped approximately 400 Oklahomans arrange to have warrants dropped, potentially preventing unnecessary incarceration. These events showcase a commitment to second chances and reducing the burden of the criminal justice system on individuals seeking rehabilitation. The United States loses an estimated 78 to 87 million dollars in GDP annually from keeping justice involved individuals out of the workforce. Allowing individuals to clear their warrants opens up opportunities in employment and housing.
OCJR CDI Report:
The Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR) has released a report on Concentrated Disadvantage and its effects on violence, providing valuable insights into the current state of the criminal justice system. This data-driven approach allows policymakers to make informed decisions based on evidence and fosters transparency in the reform process by helping center public safety as the ultimate goal. Oklahoma’s current system is destabilizing communities and families which only serves to increase crime rates.
CSI Annual Report - Clean Slate:
The Clean Slate Initiative (CSI) annual report outlines the progress made in expunging criminal records, giving individuals a fresh start. By removing barriers to reintegration, Oklahoma is actively promoting rehabilitation and reducing the stigma associated with prior convictions. Allowing individuals to automatically clear their criminal records will open up economic opportunity and create more taxpayers. A study in Michigan found within one year of receiving an expungement, individuals were 13% more likely to be employed, 23% more likely to be earning at least $100 per week, and had their quarterly wages increase by 23%.
Oklahoma's commitment to criminal justice reform is making a difference in the lives of Oklahomans across the state. From addressing barriers to treatment access, uplifting individuals and families experiencing homelessness and relieving the burden of system involvement, Oklahoma’s reform coalition is a remarkable beacon of hope in a time when this nation faces tremendous political challenges, OCJR is proud of the work we’ve done with a remarkable coalition of partners in 2023 As we celebrate these successes in 2023, let us also look forward to the continued evolution of Oklahoma's criminal justice system, fostering positive change for all its residents.