In today’s edition, our five hand-picked stories cover the credibility of U.S. election polls, the enduring hope in U.S. places of despair, the resilience of Jewish-Muslim communities, some ways around partisan roadblocks, and how the Rev. Robin Hood helps Chicago’s downtrodden.
First, more than 450 inmates walked out of prison in Oklahoma on Monday. It was the biggest single mass commutation – or act of forgiveness – in U.S. history.
Wait. Isn’t this “Trump Country”? Are conservatives now going soft on crime?
Yes, and no. More than 65% of Oklahomans did vote for Donald Trump in 2016. On the same day, Oklahomans also approved a referendum to reclassify drug possession as a misdemeanor.
Oklahoma highlights a major shift in how all Americans view crime. It reflects a close alignment between liberals and conservatives in making the justice system fairer and less expensive. We saw that with last year’s congressional passage of the First Step Act.
What’s behind this conservative shift on crime and punishment? The short answer: the crystal meth and opioid epidemics. The injustice of going to prison on a minor drug charge is increasingly personal. A 2017 national poll showed 54% of Trump voters said they knew someone who is or has been incarcerated. Oklahoma has the highest prison rate in the nation, and over-incarceration is the definition of inefficient government. Oklahoma Republican Kris Steele tells The Washington Post the GOP shift also aligns with Christian values, such as redemption, grace, forgiveness, and second chances.
Tess Harjo might agree. She was freed Monday after serving nearly two years of a 15-year sentence for drug possession. After hugging her waiting aunts and grandmother, she told The Oklahoman her release was “a blessing.”