Hundreds of Oklahoma inmates were released from prison in the largest commutation in U.S. history.
This past Monday, more than 400 inmates across the state of Oklahoma were released from prison in what the governor’s office is calling the largest single-day mass commutation in the country’s history. NBC reports Oklahoma and the Parole Board approved the commutations on Friday and forwarded them to Gov. Kevin Stitt, a former mortgage company CEO who was elected in 2018. In a unanimous vote, the board decided that 527 state inmates be commuted; 462 of those inmates who were expected to walk out of prison on Monday and 65 others to be held on a detainer.
“With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans,” Steve Bickley, executive director of the board, said in a statement Friday. “However, from Day One, the goal of this project has been more than just the release of low-level, nonviolent offenders, but the successful re-entry of these individuals back into society.” Stitt has been advocating for criminal justice reform, with a mission to move away from policies that led to Oklahoma being the state with the highest incarceration rate in the country. At a news conference on Friday, Stitt hailed the decision to give hundreds of Oklahomans “a second chance.”
“This marks an important milestone of Oklahomans wanting to focus the state’s efforts on helping those with nonviolent offenses achieve better outcomes in life,” Stitt said in a statement Monday. “The historic commutation of individuals in Oklahoma’s prisons is only possible because our state agencies, elected officials, and partnering organizations put aside politics and worked together to move the needle,” he added.
The move comes after Oklahoma citizens voted in 2016 to have simple drug possession, and low-level property crimes changed from felonies to misdemeanors. Stitt signed a bill this year that retroactively adjusted those sentences, approving a fast-track commutation docket for those who met the criteria. “We really want you to have a successful future,” Stitt told the crowd. “This is the first day of the rest of your life. … Let’s make it, so you guys do not come back here again.” The state will also provide inmates with a state-issued driver’s license or state-issued identification card, so they may have an easier transition into normal society and begin applying for jobs.