On November 4, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt ordered the commutations of sentences for 462 people who were incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons. It was one of the largest single-day releases of people from incarceration in the history of the United States.
The commutations come as part of bipartisan efforts to reduce incarceration rates in the state, which has one of the highest per-capita imprisonment rates in the country. In 2016, voters approved a plan to downgrade many crimes classified as felonies to misdemeanors, and in 2019, the Oklahoma Legislature approved a measure to make the law retroactive. This move allowed the state’s pardon and parole board to review the sentences of people who would not have been charged with felonies today, leading to the commutations.
“This is a classic example of a state where voters on the right and the left agree on the need for criminal justice reform,” said Udi Ofer, the director of the justice division of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been heavily involved in reform efforts in Oklahoma. “What’s happening today is an important step forward, but much more is needed.”