Oklahoma Prisons Releasing Hundreds Of Non-Violent Offenders The state of Oklahoma plans to release hundreds of prisoners Monday after their sentences were reduced by the state's Pardon and Parole Board.
NPR logo

Oklahoma Prisons Releasing Hundreds Of Non-Violent Offenders

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/775982538/775982539" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Oklahoma Prisons Releasing Hundreds Of Non-Violent Offenders

Oklahoma Prisons Releasing Hundreds Of Non-Violent Offenders

Oklahoma Prisons Releasing Hundreds Of Non-Violent Offenders

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/775982538/775982539" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The state of Oklahoma plans to release hundreds of prisoners Monday after their sentences were reduced by the state's Pardon and Parole Board.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Oklahoma, state prisons are preparing to release hundreds of prisoners today as part of the nation's largest single-day commutation. StateImpact's Quinton Chandler reports that 462 people could be sent home after changes to the criminal justice system in that state.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Matthew Addison (ph), Jesse Atkinson (ph)...

QUINTON CHANDLER, BYLINE: Dozens of state leaders, criminal justice reform activists and concerned citizens are sitting patiently in a white-walled prison meeting room in Oklahoma City, listening as a state attorney names hundreds of men and women who will soon walk out of prisons around the state.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...Alex Beets (ph), Annette Beakman (ph)...

CHANDLER: Three years ago, Oklahoma voters chose to make felony drug possession and certain felony property crimes misdemeanors. But people convicted of those crimes before the law changed didn't reap the benefits until now. This year, Oklahoma's legislature decided to give those prisoners who didn't qualify a chance to get their sentences commuted and be released early. Oklahoma State Representative Jon Echols co-sponsored the bill that made this possible. He says this is a special moment in Oklahoma government.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JON ECHOLS: These are real lives, real people with real families and with real friends. And they get to go home.

CHANDLER: Echols says there was a lot of doubt that the Department of Corrections - or DOC - would be able to identify prisoners eligible for early release.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ECHOLS: There were times when we've tried to do this - that dealing with DOC and getting those names, we were told, wasn't going to be possible. Yet you heard today through the new director of DOC we were able to get those names ahead of what was scheduled.

CHANDLER: Oklahoma politicians say this is the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history. But for Oklahomans, these commutations represent something more. This conservative, tough-on-crime state has a new political will to pursue criminal justice reform. It's a will Oklahoma voters first communicated to their representatives with their 2016 vote that overwhelmingly called for more lenient punishments for nonviolent drug crime. That vote made today's commutations possible and convinced lawmakers, including the state's new governor, to take on criminal justice reform. Republican Governor Kevin Stitt was an early supporter of efforts to get these prisoners released. His office has been working closely with state agencies on their commutations. And he's promised to approve shortened sentences for the people who are recommended by the Pardon and Parole Board. After the parole board meetings, Stitt said this is only the beginning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN STITT: This group of nonviolent offenders are just a part of this story. By the end of this year, we're anticipating we'll have about 2,000 empty beds in our system.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Amen.

CHANDLER: The governor says those people will walk out with access to social services that will help them successfully re-enter society thanks to dozens of non-profits and state agencies that met with prisoners during the state's first-ever prisoner transition fares.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...Johnny Weaver (ph), Jason Weaver (ph), Michael Webb (ph)...

STITT: Now is the moment the audience of activists, state legislators, college students and prison staff have waited for. The five board members, sitting with a deep-blue curtain at their backs, are casting their votes on whether to recommend the commutations. Staff recommends the board approve and send to the governor that these inmates have their sentences commuted to one year.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Allen McCall.

ALLEN MCCALL: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Robert Gilliland.

ROBERT GILLILAND: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Adam Luck.

ADAM LUCK: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Kelly Doyle.

KELLY DOYLE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Larry Morris.

LARRY MORRIS: Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

CHANDLER: The first prisoners are expected to be released later today. For NPR News, I'm Quentin Chandler in Oklahoma City.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA'S "BEHIND THE WORLD")

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.