COMMUTATION

Jacqueline Blocker with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and others applaud during a meeting of the Pardon and Parole Board where the more than 500 Oklahoma prisoners were recommended for commutation Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. It is believed to be the largest single day commutation in U.S. history. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Oklahoma officials made a powerful and unprecedented move to set the state on course for true criminal justice reform.

Last week, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board approved sentence commutations for 527 prisoners, a historic national single-day number for such early release. Of those, 462 inmates have already left prison.

This comes after decades of advocacy work and approval of State Question 780 that reclassified some nonviolent crimes to misdemeanors and reduced sentences. House Bill 1269, sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols and Rep. Jason Dunnington, made those provisions retroactive.

Gov. Kevin Stitt backed the commutations saying it was “implementing the will of the people.”

Those being released are serving sentences for crimes that would not be a felony today, have had no behavior problems while incarcerated and did not draw protests from prosecutors or victims.

It was a day worth celebrating for reuniting families and helping inmates become productive citizens. It saves the state nearly $12 million a year.

The move means Oklahoma no longer has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, although being No. 2 to Louisiana shows we still have much work to do.

The state’s retributive justice system is an unsustainable model that has left the state without enough money to fund core government services, many of which would have helped people avoid crime.

The next step is supporting former inmates as they look for work, housing and mental health or substance abuse services.

Other reforms are also needed, including changes to the state’s felony statutes, the bail system and court fees and fines.

We applaud the Pardon and Parole Board, governor and lawmakers for showing a new attitude toward criminal justice.

We hope members of the board continue to give eligible inmates a second chance, and elected officials keep an open mind to future reforms.


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