Oklahomans will vote in November on two proposals that could significantly reduce the number of people sent to prison in a state with a high incarceration rate, Fusion reports. State Questions 780 and 781 would reclassify simple drug possession and property crimes under $1,000 from felonies to misdemeanors. Instead of prison time, people convicted of those crimes would receive drug treatment, mental health treatment, and rehabilitation programs that would be paid for by the savings from not locking them up. Oklahoma has the nation’s second-highest incarceration rate, after Louisiana, and its prisons are at 115 percent capacity. If the measures are approved by voters, they’re expected to reduce annual prison admissions by 25 percent, which is the proportion of new inmates who are convicted of low-level property crimes and drug possession.
Because it costs Oklahoma $15,000 to incarcerate someone and only $6,000 to treat them while they’re on probation, the state could save between $30 and $40 million a year. Legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin already have taken steps to lower mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and raising the threshold for some property felonies to $1,000. Kris Steele, former speaker of the State House and one of the referendums’ backers, said most legislators would be wary of being tarred as “soft on crime” if they passed broader reforms to drug laws. “If these state questions do not pass in November, it’s likely that the legislature will interpret that result as the people have spoken and we’re probably done talking about this issue for the next 10 years,” he said. “That keeps me up at night.”