In the 1990s, Oklahoma went all-in on the nation’s get-tough-on-crime movement, cracking down on law-breaking whether it involved violence or not. In just one generation, Oklahoma emerged as the world’s per capita incarceration leader.
The result was unexpected: lock-‘em-up and throw-away-the key had little impact on crime rates. Where it succeeded was in creating an ever expanding, ever more costly prison industrial complex that demanded to be fed by taxpayers. Corrections funding soared to unsustainable levels.
Worse, it ripped a gaping hole in Oklahoma’s social fabric, shattering families and destroying lives. Families were shattered. Lives destroyed.
For elected officials, of course, tough on crime had long been a winning political strategy. But the taxpayers were seeing the downsides, first-hand. And they discovered other Red States – Texas, in particular – were getting better results by being “smart on crime” – emphasizing mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, job training and other policies that actually pursued “correction” not punishment.
In the first of two episodes, Observercast this week takes a deep dive into criminal justice reform with the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Damion Shade and state Rep. Collin Walke, who provide an unvarnished look at how an Oklahoma Legislature still dominated by the tough on crime crowd has sought to undermine smart on crime measures state voters approved in 2016 by wide margins.