Oklahoma begins historic release of nonviolent offenders after commutation vote

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TAFT, Okla. (KFOR) – After a historic vote by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, almost 500 Oklahoma inmates are set to be reunited with their families beginning this week. “Five-hundred and twenty-seven inmates have been recommended to the governor for commutation. Four-hundred and sixty-nine inmates are scheduled to be released as a result of this,” said Steve Bickley, executive director for the Pardon and Parole Board. On Monday, nearly 500 inmates are to be set free across the state on those commuted sentences. Officials say that could be the largest one-day prisoner release in U.S. history. Officials say this moment started back in 2016 when Oklahoma voters approved SQ 780, making simple drug possession a misdemeanor and giving offenders who were already serving felony time for those crimes a chance at freedom. The bipartisan effort to pass HB 1269 this past legislative session is now making that chance a reality. “There were so many different pieces of policy coming in and on this, we all could sit together at the table and say this matters,” Rep. Jason Dunnington (D), a co-author for HB 1269, said. Last week, family members and organizations went before the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to fight for their loved ones. Corey Harris went to the board on behalf of his brother, who appeared by video, and says he has already lined up a job for him. “It’s very important that they do have somewhere to go. Otherwise, they’ll revert back to their old habits,” Harris told NBC News.
News 4 was at the Kate Barnard Community Corrections Center as the first inmates were released on Monday morning. Lana Lemus was incarcerated for three years for drug possession. On Monday, she was reunited with her daughter. “I’ve been out of her life for three years. She’s my hope. She’s never given up on me. So, it’s a great opportunity for a lot of women out there and all I have to say is thank you,” Lemus said. The state is expected to save $11.9 million in average prison costs once the inmates are released. Leading up to the release, officials with the Department of Corrections say they have held events to help line up jobs, housing, and counseling for the inmates. Also, the inmates were able to receive their driver’s licenses or IDs at the re-entry fairs.

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