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'God's Not Done Yet': 400+ Oklahoma Inmates Freed in Historic Early Prison Release

11-05-2019
Image credit: (AP Photo)
Image credit: (AP Photo)

In a move hailed as a giant step in criminal justice reform, Oklahoma has commuted the sentences of hundreds of non-violent offenders.

More than 400 prisoners were released in the largest single mass commutation in the country's history.

In 2016, Oklahoma approved State Question (SQ) 780, which reclassified simple drug charges and minor property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. 
 
SQ 781 distributes the money saved from SQ 780 to a fund that is issued to counties, which provide mental health and substance abuse services to former inmates.

Gov. Kevin Stitt (R-OK) approved House Bill 1269 in May 2019, which was designed to identify how the culture and process for low-level crimes could change. 

On November 1, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board (PPB) voted unanimously to exchange the sentences for hundreds of state inmates. 

In a statement, the governor thanked the Department of Corrections, PPB and the many non-profit organizations that strived to make HB 1269 possible.

The historic event led to emotional reunions for many family members.

KOKH-TV in Oklahoma City reports that 15 women were released from Kate Barnard Community Correctional Facility.

Shannon Brown was serving time at the Oklahoma City facility for drug-related charges. "Thank God for the 780 law and great people who voted for it," Brown said.

A female inmate, who was released from Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, praised God for her pardon.

"This is joy! This is for Yahweh. Thank you, father. Oh, my God, I'm so happy."

Lori Scott met her three-month-old grandson for the first time after her release from the Taft prison.

"I don't want to never put him down," Scott said. "God's not done yet. He's given us the chance to be able to do something different with our lives."

Gov. Stitt said, "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."

The commutation will save taxpayers nearly $12 million. 

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