Other States Should Copy Oklahoma's Mass Prisoner Release
Start writing a post
Currently

Oklahoma Just Released More Than 400 Inmates, And Other States Should Do The Same Thing

How one state's decision to lower sentences can be an example for a nation with alarming incarceration rates.

121
Oklahoma Just Released More Than 400 Inmates, And Other States Should Do The Same Thing

The release of more than 400 inmates from an Oklahoma prison on Monday, November 4, was a milestone for state prison reform. Oklahoma has the nation's second-highest incarceration rate and is taking the lead on prison reform at the state level. The approval by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to release these inmates was unanimous and marks the largest commutation in a single day in our nation's history.

The State's Motivation

Commuting the sentences of these individuals was aimed at reducing the number of inmates in state prisons charged with nonviolent crimes that were already approaching the near end of their original sentences. The release of many of the inmates is attributed to the downgrading of many felonies to misdemeanors and with the HB 1269 docket. Reducing sentences for nonviolent offenses in Oklahoma has been a bipartisan effort despite the state being heavily Republican. During the approval process for reducing offenses, former Republican Representative Bobby Cleveland remarked, "Basically, in Oklahoma, we're just warehousing people in prison, and we're not trying to rehabilitate anybody because of budget constraints."

Those who were released were on average only 1.29 years away from completing their sentence, but the impact of their commutation is tremendous. The Pardon and Parole Board for the state estimates the completion of their sentences would have cost the state $11.9 million. Additionally, those who were commuted have an earlier opportunity to re-enter society. Oklahoma is attempting to facilitate the inmates' transition into society by establishing programs to ensure they are released with a license or at least a state-issued identification card to make the job search process easier. The state has begun to hold "transition fairs" for inmates at state facilities to connect inmates with services they will need once released such as housing and employment opportunities.

What's Next

While the commutation of these prisoners is a step in the right direction for Oklahoma, it cannot be the last. The state is still behind others in terms of programs and steps to reduce incarceration rates, which explains its consistent alarmingly high rates. Andrew Speno, Oklahoma's Right on Crime director, believes the progress made Monday is at risk of "being undermined" because the state has not allocated millions of its savings to mental-health services, job-placement help, and other services to aid the inmates.

Advocates from the American Civil Liberties Union have voiced concern, stating that for the state to progress, changes to sentencing enhancements need to be made to prevent released inmates from being subject to harsher punishment for the same offense if repeated.

The mass commutation is certainly a landmark in bipartisan prison reform efforts with an important emphasis on facilitating a successful re-entry to society. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-OK) Stitt said in a statement Monday, "This event is another mark on our historic timeline as we move the needle in criminal justice reform, and my administration remains committed to working with Oklahomans to pursue bold change that will offer our fellow citizens a second chance while also keeping our communities and streets safe."

While there are concerns about the state becoming complacent in the fight for prison reform due to this success, politicians and activists alike have voiced their commitment to improving the criminal justice system.

National Implications

The United States, a beacon of freedom for many, has championed the highest incarceration rates in the world for quite some time. Rates have decreased steadily over the past five years; however, our nation remains at the highest rate. For reference, the United States spends almost $12 billion more on corrections facilities than the Department of Education's budget. This massively complex issue can be attributed to many institutional problems and has endless contributing factors.

Most of the prison reform efforts have been targeted at the federal level, whether it be pushing against the impacts of the war on drugs or fighting against or for privatized prisons, etc. Drug offenses account for a far higher percentage of inmates in federal facilities compared to state facilities, though this greatly oversimplifies the relationship between drug crimes and incarceration. Oklahoma, for example, has a long history of locking up offenders for drug-related crimes than many other states.

Additionally, some studies by the United States Sentencing Commission have shown that after prisoners are released, there is an almost 50 percent chance they end up in the system once more. This is why many argue that while the mass commutation on Monday is a step in the right direction, the state needs to focus on creating a successful re-entry to society for inmates.

Prison reform in Oklahoma has brought an ongoing issue into the national spotlight once again and provides a great opportunity for reform across the nation for states to follow in suit. Mass incarceration in the United States is not an issue that can be resolved with a few policy changes or commutation of sentences, but one that requires dedication at every level of government from politicians, lobbyists, and activists.

Report this Content
Everything You Need to Know About Travel between the USA and the UK

Keep Reading... Show less
News

T-Mobile is facing two class-action lawsuits as a result of a catastrophic data breach.

Lawsuits are piling up in the wake of the massive data breach.

3101
T-Mobile

Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against T-Mobile in the wake of a massive data breach that left millions of customers' personal information exposed.

Keep Reading... Show less
Currently

Biden's Inauguration Signals A Time Of Healing After A Dark And Painful Period

Joe Biden's inauguration marks the beginning of a time of healing for America.

11846
Biden's Inauguration Signals A Time Of Healing After A Dark And Painful Period

The day finally arrived. Joe Biden has been inaugurated and is now the 46th president of the United States of America. Kamala Harris has been sworn in as our country's new vice president. She is the first woman and the first person of color to fill the role. After years of fighting, frustration, and fear, this is a day of celebration. It's a day of hope as we look to the future. It's also a day of healing, as our collective wounds are still very fresh.

Keep Reading... Show less
Currently

Victory For LGBTQ Americans As The US Gains 6 New LGBTQ Government Representatives

Regardless of who is president, let's celebrate these huge victories for LGBTQ representation in various states' governments.

9115
Victory For LGBTQ Americans As The US Gains 6 New LGBTQ Government Representatives

The presidential election was extremely stressful for us all, causing us to worry about who will win and what it means for the future. For many of us, this can mean the difference between life and death, especially for BIPOC and members of the LGBTQ communities who are at the mercy of homophobes and racists — many of whom are proud supporters of the color orange.

Instead of worrying whether I'll be sent to a conversion camp next year or not, I'd rather celebrate the much bigger and more important wins. There have been six representatives added to state governments this past election who are all a part of the LGBTQ community.

Keep Reading... Show less
Currently

Who Said It — Donald Trump Or A Villain From The Avatar Universe?

A hilarious and frightening game of who said it: Donald J. Trump or a villain from "Avatar: The Last Airbender" or "The Legend of Korra."

8550
Who Said It — Donald Trump Or A Villain From The Avatar Universe?
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Creative Commons; Nickelodeon

Have fun guessing whether outgoing President of the United States Donald J. Trump or a literal anime villain said each of these 26 quotes. To keep the answers a surprise (not being able to see the answer right below the quote), I will have all of the answers at the bottom of the page.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments