Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board made a good decision when they commuted the sentences of 450 prison inmates recently.
That will lead to the quick release of about 100 prisoners and accelerated releases for the rest.
This is part of an ongoing effort to ease prison overcrowding and respond to the immediate threat of the COVID-19 virus spreading through the correctional system.
State officials have been working with criminal justice groups to identify inmates with sentences deserving of release. In February, 147 inmates received commutations, and a single-day record of such releases was made last year with 527 prisoners.
The latest announcement comes after eight organizations urged state officials to speed up the process to protect the health of prisoners and correctional staff.
Many Oklahoma prisons do not provide inmates with individual cells or a single roommate. Almost all have communal areas, and some facilities are designed with ward housing — many bunk beds in large rooms.
An Oklahoma State Penitentiary inmate has tested positive for coronavirus along with six staff at other facilities. It is enough to warrant the current temporary halt of prison transfers, lockdown orders and mandatory masks for staff.
We are encouraged that Stitt and state officials are working to address the situation. Oklahoma has spent decades locking up people who would have been better served through community rehabilitation programs.
The criminal justice movement launched four years ago with the passage of State Questions 780 and 781. The measures reclassified petty drug and property crimes as misdemeanors. The savings were to be put in crime prevention services to help at-risk people stay away from crime.
The best way to reduce the prison population is to keep people from becoming inmates in the first place.
Releasing inmates is not enough. Often, they need help in finding jobs, finishing school, reconnecting with family and staying out of trouble through mental health and substance abuse services. All of those things are made more complicated by the pandemic.
We commend Stitt and state officials for continuing commutations and urge further reforms against mass incarceration.