The state of Oklahoma owes taxpayers over 70 million dollars worth of investments in local mental health resources.
So, where's the money?
Seven years ago Oklahomans voted in favor of greater investments in local mental health.
SQ781 directed the State of Oklahoma to crunch the numbers, figure out how much money was saved with SQ780’s reduction of incarceration rate, and to put that amount saved into county-level resources like substance abuse counseling and mental health services. What it found:
SQ780 allowed felony filings to drop by more than 28%— over 14,000 cases (Open Justice Oklahoma)
SQ780 ensured that Oklahoma's prison population declined by more than 20% — nearly 6,000 fewer people in prison
This means millions in savings annually must be dispersed among counties throughout Oklahoma proportional to their population.
In 2016, Oklahomans took to their polling places and approved two key pieces of ballot measures:
Reclassified simple drug possession and many low-level property crimes as misdemeanors. Which in turn reduced our carceral population and saved tax payer dollars.
Directed the State of Oklahoma to invest the cost savings from state question 780 into a fund for local governments to provide substance abuse and mental health services.
Incarceration is expensive. By reducing incarceration, SQ780 saved Oklahomans millions of dollars.
Oklahoma puts people in prison at a higher rate than nearly every other state in the U.S. In fact, last year, the Prison Policy Initiative ranked Oklahoma as having the 3rd highest incarceration rate in the world As well as being second in the nation for incarcerating women.
Incarceration comes at a high cost — both figuratively and literally. In fiscal year 2022 alone, Oklahoma taxpayers spent $718M funding state prisons.
That’s a lot of money. And if a fraction of that amount was spent on resources like substance abuse counseling and mental health services, Oklahoma’s communities would become healthier, safer places to live.
Treatments should be easier to access than prisons.
These mental health and substance abuse resources are sorely needed — especially in rural counties.
Rural counties lack crisis and addiction centers. Rural counties are consistently the most overlooked by the state.
Smaller counties have been bearing the burden of incarceration costs.
Incarceration is not only an urban phenomenon. In fact, according to the data, on a per capita basis, our most rural counties often lock up the most people in jail and send the most people to prison. Today, the highest rates of prison admissions are in rural counties, and pretrial detention continues to increase in smaller counties even as it is on the decline in larger counties.
While SQ780 recategorizing simple drug possession and low-level property crime as misdemeanors means less people in state prisons, it does put more people in county jails — even more reason to support smaller counties. This means that rural counties are in dire need of resources. While bigger cities have non-profits and stakeholders to pick up the slack, rural counties are left behind. It is time to invest in our rural communities and our fellow Oklahomans
Our lawmakers have an obligation to follow through on what voters chose.
There is widespread agreement among voters that their tax dollars could be better spent.
State legislators owe it to voters to implement the changes they voted for.
The money allotted to SQ781 is money that the State would otherwise spend on prisons. By holding lawmakers accountable to follow through on SQ781, Oklahomans can see their tax dollars make a meaningful difference where they actually live — reducing the cost associated with incarceration while investing money back into their communities.
How you can hold Oklahoma lawmakers accountable:
Call your lawmakers
Calling your lawmakers and letting them know that you want them to follow through on their commitment puts more pressure on them to act and honor the requests of their constituentsFind my legislator
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