Oklahoma Frees Hundreds Of Inmates In Largest Commutation In U.S. History

By Bill Galluccio

November 5, 2019

Over 450 inmates were released from jail in Oklahoma as part of a sweeping criminal justice reform effort by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously to recommend that the sentences of 527 state inmates be commuted. 462 of those prisoners walked free on Monday (November 4) while 65 others were held on a detainer.

"With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans," Steve Bickley, Executive Director of the Parole Board, said in a statement. "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."

The move to free the inmates comes three years after voters approved a ballot measure to change simple drug possession and low-level property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the country and Stitt campaigned on changing that. Last year, he signed a bill that retroactively reduced the sentences for people who were serving jail time for certain felonies.

"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," Stitt said.

The former inmates will all receive state-issued identification cards or driver's licenses to help make their transition back into society easier.

"We really want you to have a successful future," Stitt told a group of released inmates. "This is the first day of the rest of your life... Let's make it, so you guys do not come back here again."

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