The ACLU of Oklahoma’s Campaign for Smart Justice released an Oklahoma public opinion poll of voters’ views of the role of prosecutors. The new data shows overwhelming support for prosecutorial reform and that voters will take their reform-minded positions to the ballot box with them this June and November.

The poll, conducted by EMC Research, between February 13 and 18, included 500 telephone interviews Oklahomans likely to vote in November 2018. Fifty-four percent of participants identified as Republican, 40 percent as Democrat, and 6 percent as Independent.

In addition to a broader range of questions about priorities and criminal justice reform, respondents were asked what their priorities were for their prosecutors. The poll found strong bipartisan support for prosecutors who are committed to reducing mass incarceration and racial bias in the criminal justice system, and who would hold police officers accountable for wrongdoing. Not only do such views represent a significant departure from the ideology of a majority of prosecutors who currently hold office in Oklahoma, it could mean a major shake-up with all 27 Oklahoma district attorneys up for election this year.

Key findings include:

  • Seven-in-ten voters believe holding officers accountable should be a very high priority for District Attorneys

  • A majority of voters give the highest priority rating to a commitment to reducing unequal treatment because of race

  • Mental health and drug treatment are considered high priorities for voters when considering the role of their district attorneys.

Of a smaller sample in a variety of districts, polling showed that broad swaths of voters did not know who their district attorney was, and of those who did, their opinion of them was split.

“District attorneys are the most powerful and least accountable actors in the Oklahoma criminal justice system. They hold the keys to ending mass incarceration, but have spent more of their energy on stopping reform than working toward change,” said Nicole McAfee, Smart Justice Campaign Manager for the ACLU of Oklahoma. “Oklahoma voters are ready for meaningful criminal justice reform. As voters learn more about the power of prosecutors, it is not surprising that they demand district attorneys prioritize transparency and accountability to the health of our communities. In Oklahoma especially, “tough on crime” prosecutors who care more about their conviction rate than their constituents have survived for so long, largely because they go unchallenged election after election. We have seen that quickly changing around the country with efforts to educate more voters about their local prosecutor, and we expect the voter preferences reflected in this poll to show up in elections here in Oklahoma."

The ACLU of Oklahoma’s Campaign for Smart Justice is a part of the ACLU Nationwide Campaign for Smart Justice initiative — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system.

District attorneys in Oklahoma hold four-year terms. All 27 district attorneys in the state are up for election in 2018, and not again until 2022. Filing for district attorney races is April 11-13.

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