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Doing Things the Oklahoma Way

W. Scott Cole

Posted on October 29, 2019 00:50

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November 1st is a big day for the Oklahoma prison system and hundreds of its inmates. It is expected that the total number of imprisoned Oklahoma citizens will drop drastically within a month because of an “expedited commutation process” launching on that day.

In 2016, Oklahoma law was changed to make possession of personal use amounts of most drugs a misdemeanor and raised the felony threshold of property crimes from $500 to $1,000. Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a bill that made those changes potentially retroactive, with the potential to affect the sentences of hundreds of inmates in prison for those kinds of crimes.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board decided to step up to the plate and created an expedited process for commutations for those inmates who could be affected by the changes in the law. Instead of a two-step process that normally takes months, the Board created a special one-step process with a hearing that will take about an hour for each inmate. They chose November 1st as the day to hold those hearings for the affected inmates. It will be a very busy day for the entire Board.

It is estimated some 793 inmates will be eligible for inclusion on the docket for drug convictions and another 99 who were convicted of property crimes. That number, however, will be whittled down substantially before the big day comes. Inmates with records of misconduct while in prison are not eligible for the accelerated commutation hearings and must go through the longer process. Inmates who were involved in recent events that led to lockdowns in several prisons also will not receive a hearing on the first, and there will be some who receive commutations but have other sentences or detainers and so will not be released. Three district attorneys have filed challenges to some of the names on the list.

However, it is estimated that between 400 and 500 inmates will have their sentences commuted and will walk out of prison in time to be home by Thanksgiving.  If the numbers are accurate, it will be the largest number of sentence commutations in a single day in the history of our nation, eclipsing even President Obama’s commutations for federal inmates in both 2014 and 2016.

We went through decades of “tough on crime” laws that did nothing but create a mass incarceration problem, giving rise to private prisons, which are a scourge of their own. It is a slow process, but people are coming to their senses and slowly dismantling the worst of the laws created in that time.

Oklahoma has a reputation for being one of the worst states when it comes to sending its citizens to prison. If that state is willing to recognize its part in the mass incarceration problem and to take steps like this to correct its laws and treat its people more fairly, there is hope for those caught in the system all over this country.  

W. Scott Cole

Posted on October 29, 2019 00:50

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We are starting to see the fruits of criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. 

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