Better policing, stricter laws, longer prison terms: this has been the dominant approach to domestic violence in the United States for decades as lawyers tried to get the state to treat “private” violence as the urgent threat that it is. But when the costs of police violence and mass incarceration became clear, the criminal justice reformers worked in the opposite direction to reduce harsh convictions. Sometimes these efforts collide when domestic violence is used as a justification for opposition to criminal law reforms.
This is happening in Oklahoma now. In recent years, reformers of the criminal justice system have sought to change the identity of the state as “the prison capital of the world,” as the Prison Policy Initiative called it in a 2018 report. As of 2016, Oklahoma had the highest incarceration rate per capita in the United States, with 1,079 people in prisons, prisons, immigration detention centers, and youth facilities per 100,000 residents. Thanks to to organize Through a bipartisan coalition, the state recently reduced some sentences and streamlined the probation process, and the prison population has done so like. Still, drug abusers spend 78 percent more time behind bars in Oklahoma than the national average. People convicted of violent crimes spend 21 percent more time in prison.
Now voters are considering a constitutional amendment known as State Issue 805 that outlaws the enhancement of penalties for nonviolent crimes. Currently, someone convicted of a nonviolent crime such as drug possession or burglary can extend their sentence beyond the maximum sentence if they have previously been convicted. This is common: Almost 80 percent Oklahomans with earlier beliefs increased their sentences. Improvements allow prosecutors to search and distribute to judges 20- and 30 years in prison, even life imprisonment, for nonviolent crimes. Prosecutors are also using the threat of improvements to secure plea agreements. According to an independent analysis The change would reduce the prison population by around 8.5 percent by 2030 and save the state up to $ 186 million over the next 10 years – money that proponents say could be used for prevention and rehabilitation.
Domestic abuse has become a focus of the measure debate with opponents vocation the amendment “a tragedy for victims of domestic violence”. By May of this year, several domestic violence crimes in Oklahoma had been classified as “nonviolent” crimes. With SQ 805 using crime classifications as of January 1, 2020, its adoption would mean that some domestic violence convictions are ineligible for penalty enhancement. This puts victims at risk, according to victims, and “gives serial abusers the opportunity to continue their abusive behavior by not being held accountable for their repetitive and often increasingly violent behavior,” said a deputy district attorney wrote in a recent comment.
SQ 805 is most aggressively rejected by prosecutors and their lobbying organization, the District Attorneys Council. As Politico reported the group in April finances itself partly through charges from defendants. The Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault resists the reform. Another organization Oklahomans United against 805is LED by the co-founder of a Family Justice Center in Oklahoma City. (Family Justice Centers provide a variety of services to victims of domestic violence and typically maintain close relationships with law enforcement agencies.)
Other anti-violence advocates and domestic abuse survivors in Oklahoma – as well as in the United States – have become skeptical of the value of extended prison sentences as the primary solution to domestic violence, and some support SQ 805. One reason is the fact that penalty enhancements can lead to victims of abuse spending more time in prison themselves. Oklahoma has more women incarcerated per capita than any other state. According to a study from 2014 two-thirds of women in state prisons were ill-treated by a partner the year before they were arrested.
“I firmly believe that a lot of scare tactics, misinformation and outright lies are being told to Oklahomans by opponents of the amendment,” said Sonya Pyles, an abuse survivor embroiled in a cycle of tougher sentences and served several years in prison on drug-related charges . “I received no rehabilitation, no drug treatment, and certainly no therapy or anything that would have helped address the underlying problems that led me on my path to addiction,” Pyles said. She was once faced with up to 20 years in prison for nonviolent crimes for improvement. But she was able to participate in a distraction program and now works as a program coordinator for Tulsa Lawyers for Children and was active in the “Yes to 805” campaign. “I was brutally beaten. I was shot. I’ve been through it and wholeheartedly support it [SQ 805]Because I believe the millions of dollars taxpayers spend on incarceration of Oklahomans could be better spent on providing resources to crime victims, [and] for people who commit the crime of domestic violence, ”Pyles said.
Proponents have also indicated that there is little evidence By giving longer sentences, people are less likely to abuse their partners in the future. Instead, incarceration can be used aggravate Conditions related to intimate partner violence, including unemployment and trauma. “Even if law enforcement rates were higher, incarceration would not and has not solved the domestic violence problem.” wrote Molly Bryant, a social worker who works for a domestic violence organization in Tulsa. “There are no domestic violence abuse programs in Oklahoma prisons. The prison takes a break from domestic violence but does not end the domestic violence cycle. That means that after their release many will become angrier and more violent, not less. ”
Jacqueline Blocker, the engagement director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition that has led the state’s detachment efforts with the ACLU and other groups, said she had decided to speak publicly for the first time about her own experience of violence in the state To speak partnership specifically because of the way SQ 805 opponents handled the problem. “It makes me sick that anyone would take advantage of the trauma of surviving an abusive relationship to advance their own political agenda,” Blocker said wrote in February in response to a district attorney’s opinion bring up Concerns about the impact of SQ 805 in cases of abuse. “This attempt to target domestic abuse victims is a click-bait letter to scare Oklahomans who support criminal justice reform. There is numerous and overwhelming research showing that our state’s use of extreme rates does not make our communities safer. “Blocker told me that they saw SQ 805 as an opportunity to reallocate resources to prevent or pause abuse before prosecution.” I think the state needs to be better in the front end than the back -End to be invested because by that point the damage has already been done, “she said.
Opponent of SQ 805 to warn that it “will create a culture in which the commission of crimes is acceptable”. That’s an obvious exaggeration: people convicted of domestic violence-related crimes in Oklahoma would still go to jail if the measure is successful. The state is already treating “domestic violence with a previous pattern of physical abuseAnd domestic attacks with a dangerous weapon as a criminal offense that can be punished with up to 10 years; that won’t change. And the legislature could Increase the maximum rates at any time.
Beyond the factual disputes, the Oklahoma debate reflects deeper divisions within the anti-violence community. As I reported recently, many domestic violence advocates have anticipated how their trust in police and prisons has alienated or harmed some survivors while helping others. This is really delicate terrain for many organizations that rely on funding provided by politicians who may not be looking for alternative approaches, especially in conservative areas. Some organizations have lost Partnerships and financial support just to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. As SQ 805 shows, other proponents and survivors believe that the legal system should respond more aggressively to abuse, not less. “In Oklahoma, we don’t hold criminals accountable already,” said Candida Manion, executive director of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and a critic of 805 Oklahoma Watch.
So far, most reform efforts in the area of criminal justice at the state and federal level have been politically dependent on the division of violent and non-violent crimes. But it is not possible to significantly reduce incarceration rates without involving people who have committed violence in reforms. And as SQ 805 shows, this distinction is not always made precisely. Many opponents of SQ 805 claim that they are committed to reducing the incarceration of people. However, there is a fundamental separation between this mission and an anti-violence strategy based on the extension of criminal penalties. There are some examples of anti-violence groups that close this gap: in 2014, for example, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence against Women opposite An amendment to the federal reform law called the Smarter Sentencing Act would have imposed new mandatory minimum requirements for domestic violence and sex crimes. In Oklahoma, it remains to be seen whether voters see the goal of reducing incarceration and efforts to protect victims of domestic abuse as contradicting or forgiving.