OKLAHOMA — Hundreds of Oklahoma inmates left prison Monday before their original sentences were over. And bipartisan lawmakers couldn’t be happier.
In the largest mass commutation in US history, at least 462 non-violent inmates were released, officials said. A total of 527 inmates had their sentences commuted Friday, but 65 of them have detainers and will be released later.
The move is one of many prison reform efforts in Oklahoma aimed at reducing overcrowded prisons while helping low-level offenders build a life of self-sufficiency rather than reincarceration.
“Now is the first day of the rest of your life,” Gov. Kevin Stitt told freed inmates.
He and other officials pledged help with what might be a challenging transition for many. “We really want you to have a successful future,” the governor said.
Video from CNN affiliate KFOR showed emotional reunions outside prisons and released inmates speaking of a new opportunity.
The state Pardon and Parole Board acted to fulfill the will of the people through the HB 1269 docket, giving hundreds of non-violent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance,” Stitt said previously.
“I also thank the Department of Corrections and the many nonprofits who are stepping up and working hard to connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful transition. This event is another mark on our historic timeline as we move the needle in criminal justice reform.”
In 2016, Oklahoma passed reforms that would turn some low-level felonies into misdemeanors. For example, possession of a small amount of drugs became a misdemeanor, and the threshold for a property crime becoming a felony increased from $500 in property value to $1,000 in value.
Of the hundreds of inmates who had their sentences commuted:
— The average age is 39.7 years old
— 75% are men, and 25% are women
— They had been incarcerated for three years
— They were being released an average of 1.34 years early
“Had these inmates served their full uncommuted sentence, it could have cost the State of Oklahoma approximately $11.9M for continued incarceration based upon the average costs,” the Pardon and Parole Board said.
But the mass commutation isn’t the only effort to reform criminal justice reform in the state.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections held its first “transition fairs” for inmates at 28 facilities across the state, the Pardon and Parole Board said.
“More than 200 people from 45 community partners, nonprofits, and state agencies attended,” the board said. “These fairs connected 781 inmates with the services they may need once released.”