Officials: Mass Oklahoma inmate release is nation’s largest
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – More than 400 Oklahoma inmates are expected to walk out of prison on Nov. 4 in what state officials say is the largest single-day mass commutation in the nation’s history.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is expected to approve the commutations on Nov. 1 and forward them to Gov. Kevin Stitt, a former CEO who has made it a priority for Oklahoma to lose its ranking as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the nation.
“The governor plans to review and take immediate action on the ... docket as soon as he receives the board’s recommendations on Friday,” said Stitt spokeswoman Baylee Lakey. “The governor applauds the Pardon and Parole Board’s dedication to fulfill the will of the people through the ... docket, giving hundreds of non-violent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance.”
The commutations will be processed by prison officials over the weekend, setting them all up for release on Nov. 4, said Steve Bickley, the new executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board.
Bickley says the release is the most on a single day since former President Barack Obama commuted the drug sentences of 330 federal prisoners on his last day in office.
Oklahoma voters approved a state question in 2016 that made simple drug possession and low-level property crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies. A bill approved earlier this year and signed by Stitt applied those sentences retroactively and authorized an accelerated, single-stage commutation docket for those who qualify.
The agency initially identified nearly 800 inmates imprisoned for simple possession and another 98 convicted of low-level property offenses, but some had additional sentences to serve or were otherwise ineligible. Bickley said any inmate with a serious misconduct while incarcerated or those whose commutation was opposed by the local prosecutor or a victim were not included on the Nov. 1 docket.
“At the end of the process, we expect the amount to be discharged to be in excess of 400,” Bickley said. “A lot of work has been done to make sure the spirit of the law is being implemented. We’re not blanketly saying everybody should get out prison. We’re trying to do what’s right and fair.”
Former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, who has spearheaded initiatives aimed at reducing the state’s prison population, described the mass commutation as evidence of a historic shift in the way Oklahomans view crime and punishment.
“Historically, many in Oklahoma have seen incarceration and excessive sentences as politically expedient,” Steele said. “We are breaking away from that model as we understand not only does it generally make a situation worse, but it also costs a fortune.”