On too many occasions, I have had to console a family after their privacy and security were stolen by a burglar. Second degree burglary is technically a non-violent crime under Oklahoma law, but anyone who has come home to find their home ransacked knows it feels violent. In these cases, they are fortunate that only things, not lives, are taken, but the trauma is real and regaining peace of mind is an arduous task.
One of the first things many of these victims say is something like “thank God nobody was home.” That’s the truth. The only difference between first degree burglary (a violent crime in Oklahoma) and second-degree burglary (a non-violent crime in Oklahoma) is if someone is home. A sick child staying home, a parent working from home, or a family ending vacation a day early, could create a truly violent tragedy.
Having shared these experiences with families, I continually recommit myself – as I know all Oklahoma District Attorneys do – to making certain we do everything in our power to prevent burglaries. Oklahomans should be able to feel safe in their own home.
Unfortunately, most studies agree it is difficult to rehabilitate a burglar. A study by the United States Bureau of Justice reports 74% of those released from prison for burglary re-offend within a year. The good news is this means almost a fourth of burglars do not re-offend and can become productive members of society. Because of this recidivism (the technical term for repeat offenders) we have developed a system where repeat violators of our laws are subject to increasingly higher penalties as a way to protect those living by society’s rules.
Judges, juries, and prosecutors routinely examine past convictions when determining sentences for repeat offenders – but that would change if State Question 805 becomes law. This state question would mean those committing so-called “non-violent” crimes like second degree burglary would always be treated as first time offenders. Putting SQ 805 in our constitution will limit the options we have in dealing with habitual burglars and could ultimately lead to the public demanding longer first-time sentences. This will have the opposite effect desired by those seeking reform.
I would like every criminal to get the services needed to become a productive citizen. However, when someone continues to commit criminal acts, we must be able to use incarceration to deliver rehabilitative services while removing that threat from our communities.
Second degree burglary, domestic violence by strangulation, and other intense crimes are not victimless. Our first public safety goal should be keeping Oklahomans from becoming victims. It is simply a fact most burglars become repeat burglars – — and when someone victimizes multiple families, law enforcement needs to be able to protect them. SQ 805 would make protecting Oklahoma families much more difficult.
Jason Hicks is a Oklahoma District Attorney and serves as President of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, a private association leading public safety discussions in the state. For more information search Facebook for OKDAA.