In a recent interview, our Oklahoma state director Andrew Speno joined News Radio 1000 KTOK to discuss the state of play surrounding conservative criminal justice reform efforts in the state, particularly with regard to two ballot questions passed by voters in early November which reclassified various low-level felony drug possession and property offenses to misdemeanors, and allows savings from those changes to be reinvested into community rehabilitation programs.

Host Jason Doyle noted that criminal justice policy appeared to be coming to a head in the state legislature, which has been pursuing reform for several years now along with Governor Mary Fallin—who has made issues within that sphere a recent priority for her administration. Asked what it was in particular that was driving calls for justice reform, Speno stated that stubborn budgetary difficulties were a key impetus:

“I think the budget crisis of last year brought a lot of things to the surface…that we’re going to have to re-examine every dollar we spend.”

Speno explained that increased reliance on carceral sanctions—Oklahoma features the country’s highest incarceration rate for women and second-highest overall, behind Louisiana—has ballooned the state’s budget, which squeezes out other areas of government, contributes to persistent prison overcrowding, and isn’t providing a concomitant return on public safety or fiscal prudence:

“We need to start looking at what we’re spending our money on, and being a better steward of our resources. When it comes to corrections and criminal justice, our priority…is public safety, that’s number one, making sure we’re safe.”

Speno goes on to discuss the implications of State Questions 780 and 781, and how they set the stage for more comprehensive reform packages that are currently being investigated by the state’s Justice Reinvestment Task Force, which are modeled in part after successful initiatives that have passed in Texas and other southern red states.

Listen to the entire interview below: