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Point of View: Oklahoma needs State Question 805

Damita Price
Damita Price

Life without parole. That was the future I faced when I was arrested on drug-related charges in 1995. Due to two previous drug possession charges on my record, I became the first woman in Oklahoma to receive life without parole under the old “three strikes” law.

Mistakes brought on by years of struggling to pay my son’s medical bills meant I suddenly faced a lifetime without my family, friends and community.

The tide turned when my sentence was commuted by former Gov. Mary Fallin. Since then, I’ve been working to reconnect with my family and rebuild my life outside of prison. Oklahoma has made significant progress reforming its criminal legal system, but I still see and feel the effects of our incarceration crisis every day.

That’s why I want to urge you to sign the petition and support State Question 805.

Oklahoma has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country and has had the highest female imprisonment rate for nearly three decades. Our state’s use of sentence enhancements is one of the main reasons we continue to lead in these categories.

I have seen my community members with years, decades or even life in prison stacked on top of their prison sentences for previous convictions. Compared to other states, Oklahomans spend nearly 70% longer in prison for property crimes and 79% longer for drug crimes. These long sentences continue to harm Oklahomans and their families as they have harmed me.

Sentence enhancements not only delay access to critical services for those with substance use disorders or mental health conditions, but also punish people for their condition. These people don’t need more time added to their prison sentences. They need recovery, treatment and support.

Oklahoma has come a long way. Now is the time for action, for continued progress. That’s why I support SQ 805, a common-sense reform that will end the use of sentence enhancements for nonviolent offenses and allow people who have already received an extreme sentence to petition the court for relief.

As it stands, prosecutors have the sole discretion to increase a sentence for nearly any offense if the person has ever been convicted of a crime in the past, even for minor drug or property crimes.

Support SQ 805 by signing the petition to put it on the 2020 ballot. Together, we can reunite families, reduce the imprisonment rate and help Oklahomans reach their full potential.

Price is a criminal justice reform activist. She was sentenced to life without parole under the old "three strikes" law and had her sentence commuted by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2017.

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