Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform launched a petition drive Thursday aimed at reducing the prison population and redirecting savings to create treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Former House Speaker and current chair of the coalition Kris Steele stood with political, faith and business leaders and argued the importance of helping convicted felons.
"This initiative petition is about the need for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. It's about the importance of addressing root causes of criminogenic behavior and the positive impact that approach will have on public safety,” Steele said. “This endeavor is also about the power to break through political gridlock, to do what's in the best interest of our state.”
Steele is the executive director of The Employment and Education Ministry, an organization that helps offenders transition back into society after leaving incarceration.
Former Gov. Brad Henry also joined the initiative petition kickoff. Henry said it was time to take bold steps to change the state's current practices.
“I would submit that our corrections system is broken, that all we are doing is throwing money away by warehousing and not getting these people the help that they need,” Henry said. “We, as Oklahomans, cannot stand by idly and allow this broken system to continue. We have a collective responsibility to join together to do the right thing.”
The state questions aim to reform sentences for certain low-level offenses and create drug treatment, mental health and job training programs. The group needs more than 65,000 signatures in the next 90 days to get the questions on the November ballot.