More Than 450 Oklahoma Inmates Released in Largest Single-Day Commutation in U.S. History

More than 450 Oklahoma inmates were released on November 4, which became the largest single-day commutation in U.S. history. The massive release came after inmates’ sentences were retroactively reclassified as misdemeanors due to the passage of House Bill 1269.

Why It Matters

Prior to the massive commutation, Oklahoma led the country in incarcerations; it now stands at 49th.

In 2016, Oklahomans voted to support State Questions 780 and 781, which reclassified simple drug possession as a misdemeanor and increased the felony dollar threshold from $500 to $1000 for felony property crimes. In 2019, House Bill 1269 made SQ 780 retroactive, therefore allowing hundreds of incarcerated Oklahomans the chance to regain their freedom.

“This event is another mark on our historic timeline as we move the needle in criminal justice reform, and my administration remains committed to working with Oklahomans to pursue bold change that will offer our fellow citizens a second chance while also keeping our communities and streets safe,” Governor Kevin Stitt (R) said in a statement. Commutation Break Down

  • The Pardon and Parole Board considered 814 cases for commutation. The board voted unanimously on Friday, November 1 to recommend commutation for 527 non-violent offenders serving time for crimes no longer considered felonies.

  • Of the 527 inmates recommended for commutation, 65 have detainers and were not released, according to The Oklahoman.

  • Commuting these sentences could save the state of Oklahoma $11.9 million. It will also reduce the state’s incarceration rate by 1.7 percent, according to Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols.

  • Previous large-scale commutation record was held by Governor George Ryan of Illinois, who in 2003 commuted the sentences of 167 death-row inmates to life sentences or less, The New York Times reported.

Criminal Justice Crisis — Quick Facts

  1. 1 in 5 incarcerated people are imprisoned for drug offenses, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. PPI said in a report that in any given day, 451,000 people are incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes.

  2. Despite the gap shrinking, Black people continue to be arrested and incarcerated at greater numbers than other racial demographics in the U.S. A 2014 report by USA Today found that across 70 police departments in the U.S., Black people were arrested at a rate 10 times higher than people who were not Black. By the end of 2017, federal and state prisons locked up 475,900 Black people compared to 436,500 whites and 336,500 Hispanics. These numbers stand in stark contrast with the racial demographics of the U.S. population. The U.S. Census notes that whites make up 76.5 percent of the population, while Black people make up just 13.4 percent.

  3. Several major cities and states have made moves to expunge the records of the previously imprisoned, including Detroit, San Francisco and New York.

What More Can Be Done?

  • Stay informed: Oklahomans For Criminal Justice Reform has listed 14 reforms that need to take place to address Oklahoma’s imprisonment crisis. The organization is also leading Project Commutation, in a bid to free hundreds more incarcerated Oklahomans.

  • Help local organizations: Resonance Center for Women is helping dozens of women who were recently released integrate back into their communities. The non-profit provides several ways to help, including donating resources for its prison-to-community re-entry program, mentoring, among others. Those hoping to help, can click here.

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About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia, Australia and the Americas.