The People Have Spoken on Criminal Justice Reform!
By Rep. Dr. George E. Young, Sr. Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus Vice Chair
I am so appreciative of the support that is mounting for the idea that has taken the form of legislation I filed this year (House Bill 1476) for discussion and debate concerning a very important and significant issue within our criminal justice system: eliminating contemporary “debtors’ prisons”.
The very idea of penalizing someone because of their economic status is simply unacceptable. In statute and in law it is unlawful, yet in practice it occurs. Let me quickly say that part of the problem is that as a legislator, and among legislators, we have failed our criminal justice system by not giving them the financial foundation to do the work we call on them to do, so they have had to find other ways to pay their bills.
My first year in office, I was asked to come into the office of the chair of the committee in which my bill for fees and fines had been assigned. The chair, an attorney, said to me, “George, what you are asking for is a fundamental change to the criminal justice system.” I thought about it and what he said sounded so large that I recoiled for a moment, but then quickly I thought (and please forgive this former pastor), “Damn right!”
We cannot continue to have a prison system that is 108% to 120% over capacity and 35% understaffed. A prison system that ranks highest in the nation per capita in imprisonment of women and men. A prison system that has an African American population of 30%-35% when we constitute less than 8% of the state population.
We cannot have legislators who, for whatever reason, see the voice of the people (on State Questions 780 and 781) as an uninformed vote, and deem it necessary to take it upon themselves to do what’s best for them as some helpless child. I have experienced that enough in my lifetime.
Moses had one sermon every day he went to Pharaoh’s house and it was simply, “Let My People Go!” I have one sermon as given to me by the citizens of Oklahoma: “We Have Spoken!”
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives
(405) 962-7819 office
(405) 245-4411 mobile