First group of Oklahoma inmates to be released for simple drug, property crimes

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OKLAHOMA CITY – As many as 3,500 prisoners could be freed starting in November after voters approved a measure to change certain drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

State Question 780 will be applied retroactively on Nov. 1.

The first group will be about 900 inmates locked up for simple drug possession or property crimes.

Inside the Pardon and Parole Board’s commutation docket Tuesday, people locked up for drug crimes asked for a second chance.

Corey Harris’s brother was one of those inmates.

He told the board Tuesday that he has a job lined up for his brother when he gets out.

“It’s very important that when they do get out they have somewhere to go. Otherwise they’ll revert back to their old habits,” Harris said.

This commutation docket will be multiplied by hundreds in one sweeping commutation hearing November 1.

Steve Bickley is the executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.

“[It will be] about 800 inmates that have simple possession and about another 100 inmates that meet the $1,000 threshold for eligibility,” Bickley said.

That $1,000 threshold is referring to property crimes.

Oklahoma’s previous law made stolen property over $500 a felony.

Now it’s been raised to $1,000.

Pardon and Parole leaders have been working with the Department of Corrections since August to identify who will be on the massive list of inmates to walk free.

Some may not qualify for the one-time commutation hearing.

“If an inmate has serious misconduct while in prison, we believe they’re better off in the two stage process rather than an accelerated one stage process,” Bickley said.

Officials are also working with district attorneys to get their objections before the board recommends the prison doors be opened for the biggest one-time group of inmates with whom they’ve dealt.

“I think not only is it the biggest one we’ve ever dealt with, it will be one of – if not the largest – in our nation’s history,” Bickley said.

The governor has the final say on commutations after the board makes its recommendations.

After the first group of offenders locked up for simple drug and property crimes, the board will hear others, affecting a total of about 3,500 people in state custody.

Inmates could be released as early as November 4.

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