Drew Edmondson: Oklahoma’s chief jailer

With an incarceration rate of 1,079 inmates per 100,000 people, Oklahoma leads the nation in locking individuals up in prison cells. While per-pupil common ed spending increased by 47% from 1980 to 2013, corrections increased by 230%. Virtually everyone in the state acknowledges that we have a serious prison over-population problem. Despite several criminal justice reform measures being passed into law in the most recent legislative session, DOC Director Joe Allbaugh and numerous others point out that more must be done. It would be foolhardy, if not downright irresponsible, to entrust a man who has presided over the creation of our mass incarceration crisis to resolve it, yet Drew Edmondson is one of the choices on the gubernatorial ballot in the upcoming election.

As recently as 2009 Edmondson declared his opposition to marijuana decriminalization, saying that “it’s not something that I would recommend for this country or this state.”

Mr. Edmondson spent 28 years pushing Oklahoma towards having the highest incarceration rate in the nation. As the District Attorney for Muskogee County, he sent thousands to prison. As Attorney General, he supported and defended all of the state’s District Attorneys as they did the same. Edmondson pressed for implementation of stricter sentencing, such as mandatory minimums (Oklahoman, March 15, 1996) and presided over the implementation of private prisons. As a dedicated drug warrior, he sought to crack down on youthful drug offenders(Lawton Constitution, July 26, 1994), supported the death penalty for certain drug charges(Tulsa World, April 19, 1992 & Oct. 3rd, 1996), provided initial funding for drug interdiction reliant upon civil asset forfeiture(Tulsa World, Dec. 12, 1995 & Lawton Constitution, Dec. 18, 1995), and when he was trying to keep casinos outlawed he compared gambling to marijuana, implying that both should be illegal and prosecuted(Lawton Constitution, Aug. 4th, 1996). As recently as 2009 Edmondson declared his opposition to marijuana decriminalization, saying that “it’s not something that I would recommend for this country or this state” while fighting to retain federal money to continue funding “officers making undercover drug buys” and “prosecutors in our courtrooms prosecuting offenders” in drug task forces(Tulsa World, Feb. 22, 2009).

During his career Edmondson banned charity bingo, took campaign funds from the NRA and Big Tobacco, and called for increased coal mining and more Alaskan oil pipelines.

Drew Edmondson now claims that because the “science is in” on medical uses that he voted yes on State Question 788 for medical marijuana. However, he maintains opposition to further decriminalization of cannabis for recreational use. Nor has he shown any remorse for spending his entire political career sending people to prison for cannabis. Astute political observers would not be unreasonable to conclude that Edmondson has merely shifted with the winds of political opinion, something he has been known for throughout his career. In addition to his newfound belief in the efficacy of medical marijuana, his opposition to casinos seems to have gone by the wayside, even though he used to be such a foe of gaming that he issued an opinion that banned charity bingo (Oklahoman, April 4, 1995). During his campaign for Congress against Mike Synar he was happy to be supported by the NRA(Tulsa World, April 11, 1992) and Big Tobacco(Tulsa World, May 20, 1992), although now he is no longer an NRA member and supports new gun control measures and just a few years after taking their money he turned on the tobacco industry. If one goes back far enough we can find Edmondson wanting federal money for oil pipelines in Alaska and increased coal mining(Oklahoman, June 21, 1976).

No other individual is more responsible for Oklahoma’s mass incarceration crisis than Drew Edmondson.

Drew Edmondson’s first campaign for office began during the presidential administration of Richard Nixon. Since that time he has been a career politician and has been on both sides of many issues. His latest switch is from being an avid supporter of the War on Drugs to a tepid position of being unwilling to oppose medical marijuana. But it remains the case that in 12 years as District Attorney and 16 years as Attorney General, his policies worked to fill our prisons to the bursting point. It is certainly true that there are many people who helped create the current crisis, but the individual who possesses the most culpability for Oklahoma having the highest incarceration rate in the nation is Drew Edmondson.