Criminal Justice

More than 450 inmates are released in this state in largest one-day commutation in US history

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More than 450 inmates were released in Oklahoma on Monday as a result of a law that retroactively applies lower sentences for drug possession and low-level property crimes that voters approved in 2016.

The mass commutation is thought to be the largest one-day commutation in U.S. history, report the Oklahoman and the Associated Press.

Before the commutations, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate was the highest in the nation.

The retroactive-sentence bill required the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to create a commutation docket for prisoners eligible for the reduced sentences.

University of Tulsa law students, the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office and other groups had conducted a review to find eligible cases that were forwarded to the Pardon and Parole Board.

The board reviewed 814 cases Friday and recommended commutation for 527 nonviolent prisoners. Because 65 prisoners were subject to detainers, only 462 inmates were approved for release. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt approved all but three of the commutations, the Oklahoman reported in a second story.

Before the prisoners’ release, nonprofit groups and others held transition fairs to help prisoners find jobs, housing, mental health services and other resources when they are freed.

The AP and the Oklahoman spoke with 28-year-old Tess Harjo, who was released after serving nearly two years of a 15-year sentence for drug possession. Harjo earned her GED in prison and started taking college classes. She is grateful for her release.

“It makes me think that there’s still some really good people out there that still believe in us,” Harjo told the Oklahoman. “They still believe in second chances.”

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