In what has been called the largest mass commutation in the history of the USA, at least 462 non-violent inmates were released in Oklahoma. 527 inmates had their sentences commuted, out of which 65 had detainers and were to be released later. The commutations had been approved by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and then had been forwarded to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is a former mortgage company CEO and was elected in 2018. The commute of these 527 state inmates was voted unanimously by the board.
“With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans,” Steve Bickley, executive director of the board. “However, from day one, the goal of this project has been more than just the release of low-level, nonviolent offenders, but the successful re-entry of these individuals back into society.”
Though these commutation numbers have been praised and called impressive, Natasha Frost, professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University differs from the other opinion, “I wouldn’t call this a mass commutation,” Frost said, “This barely makes a dent in Oklahoma’s prison population.” The state’s prison population is estimated at nearly 28,000 inmates, so the released prisoners only make about 2 percent of the state’s prison population. “Releasing low-level drug offenders, while it’s important, is not going to impact mass incarceration,” says Frost, who is researching mass incarceration and its effects on individuals, communities, and families. “Even if you released every drug offender today across the entire US, we would still have the highest incarceration rates in the world.”
The released inmates were serving sentences for non-violent crimes, such as petty theft and drug possession, which have since been downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors in the state of Oklahoma. Frost says that the problem is that there are many inmates serving life sentences for significantly less-violent crimes. As a solution, she suggests that life sentences should be banished altogether, “We shouldn’t seek sentences of more than 20 years,” Frost says. “And even that would make the U.S. more punitive than the rest of the world.”