In the largest single-day mass commutation in US history, 462 inmates were released from prison this week. All the inmates were held for nonviolent crimes.
The executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, Steve Bickley, was among those who voted unanimously to release the prisoners.
“With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans. 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,” Bickley said in a statement.
Republican Governor Kevin Stitt approved the commutations, fulfilling one of his campaign promises to help end mass incarceration and enhance criminal justice reform.
“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. “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.”
Oklahoma has the highest US incarceration rate in the country. Stitt hailed this as “a second chance” for Oklahomans.
The commutation started with a ballot in 2016, where Oklahoma voters approved a measure that would allow nonviolent property crimes and minor drug possession to be listed as misdemeanors instead of felonies. Stitt then signed a bill to fast track the commutation for those charged with these offences that met the criteria.
Around 70 women filed out of an all-women’s prison in Taft on last Monday afternoon. Officials erected a large tent outside the prison where Stitt addressed the women and their families.
“We really want you to have a successful future,” Stitt said. “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 is also equipping the releasees with additional outside help waiting for them. State-issued identification cards or driver’s licenses will be issued to make re-entering society, applying for jobs, and housing easier.
“These are real lives — real people with real families and with real friends — and they get to go home,” John Echols, a Republican State representative said at the news conference.