Oklahoma commutes more than 500 sentences

Oklahoma last week carried out the largest single-commutation in the country's history, allowing more than 500 prisoners serving for low-level offenses to go free on Monday.

A unanimous vote from the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board Friday will allow 527 inmates to leave prison, local broadcaster News on 6 reported. The state reports that the release of these inmates will save taxpayers about $11.9 million, according to The Washington Post.

Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) said at a Friday press conference that the state is “implementing the will of the people” through these commutations.

“Hand delivering 524 signed commutations to be processed in time for the release of hundreds of non-violent, low-level inmates across our state on Monday,” Stitt tweeted. “Thank you to the dedicated Oklahomans who made this historic step towards criminal justice reform possible!”

A total of 814 applicants requested commutation, with almost 65 percent approved.

Oklahoma approved two ballot initiatives that redefined some drug possession and nonviolent property crimes below $1,000 as misdemeanors rather than felonies in 2016, according to the Post. Lawmakers decided to make the law work retroactively in January.

Oklahoma has had the highest incarceration rate in the country, so the release will make a small dent in the number of people detained in state prisons, which reaches more than 26,000, according to the Post.

The release comes as a majority of the state’s voters now support criminal justice reform, and GOP lawmakers are becoming more open to backing this reform.

“The sad reality is, we’ve reached a point of saturation, given our high incarceration rate: If it’s not your loved one, chances are, it’s a friend,” Kris Steele, a former GOP state legislator and current executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, said. “The proximity, in many ways, has changed people’s thinking.”