Oklahoma’s prison population ballooned to record high and unsustainable levels in part because once people entered prison they had a hard time getting a second chance.
In a tough-on-crime era, parole and commutation recommendations slowed to a trickle. Thus, prisons filled to overflowing and inmates lost hope and a reason to reform their ways.
The trend coincided with Oklahoma’s recession leading to nearly a decade of budget cuts and shortfalls. Comprehensive rehabilitative programs in prisons disappeared.
A turning point came with 2016’s State Question 780, which redefined simple drug possession and some property crimes. Tulsa and Oklahoma counties began expanding alternative courts, and nonprofits offered rehab programs to inmates and post-release.
To his credit, Gov. Stitt has made criminal justice reform a pillar in his administration, which is reflected in the current Pardon and Parole Board.
Tulsa World reporter Corey Jones found that between March and August this year, compared to the same time last year with an equal pool of candidates, paroles are up 41% and commutations are up 1,300%.
That’s good news because it means the state is finally moving in the right direction.
The rate isn’t where it was before the philosophy of few to no paroles being granted. But it shows a healthier philosophy.
Inmates who have worked at changing their lives through sobriety and pursuing opportunities while incarcerated deserve a fair chance at release.
A good parole system is a safer and more successful policy for the state and one that is financially sustainable.
Paroled inmates have support and oversight on the outside to help them stay away from crime, including regular checks with parole officers. This is better than the alternative: a bus ticket and best wishes.
More reform proposals are expected from a governor’s task force and lawmakers considering further changes.
We commend the work on the parole board and urge it to continue working to manage Oklahoma’s prison population with conditional releases of inmates who deserve a second chance at free life.
It is smart policy, a moral responsibility and the will of Oklahoma residents.