US: Oklahoma to release 462 inmates in historic commutation

The inmates granted release as part of largest single-day commutation were imprisoned for low-level, non-violent crimes.

     This July 10, 2017, file photo shows a tower outside of the razor wire at the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton, Oklahoma [File: Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo]
    This July 10, 2017, file photo shows a tower outside of the razor wire at the Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton, Oklahoma [File: Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo]

    Hundreds of Oklahoma inmates who served time for low-level, non-violent crimes will walk out of prison on Monday in the largest single-day commutation of criminal sentences in United States's history, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said.

    The Oklahoma Department of Corrections will release 462 inmates after the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously on Friday to recommend commutation of their sentences for crimes that would no longer be considered felonies if charged today.

    "This event is another mark on our historic timeline as we move the needle in criminal justice reform," Stitt said in a statement after he signed off on the recommendations.

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    Officials in the governor's office were not immediately available for comment on when the inmates were to be released.

    Oklahoma's parole board, under a new state law that recently went into effect, accelerated the commutation review.

    The inmates served three years on average, and will get out of prison 16 months before the completion of their sentences the governor said. 

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    In recent years federal and state authorities across the United States have initiated policies to reduce the penalties for low-level, non-violent crimes and grant clemency for inmates who served time for those types of offences.

    In 2016, voters in Oklahoma passed criminal justice reforms that made simple drug possession a misdemeanour instead of a felony. The reforms also increased the minimum dollar amount for a felony property crime from $500 to $1,000, the governor's office said.

    During his last day in office, US President Barack Obama commuted the prison sentences of 330 federal inmates, particularly drug offenders. At the time it was the most commuted sentences in a single day, the White House said, and brought the total number of sentences reduced by Obama to 1,715.

    The Oklahoma parole board considered the cases of 814 inmates and recommended commutation for 527 inmates. Sixty-five of them will remain in prison because of warrants against them in other cases.

    The parole board said in a statement that the release of the inmates will save the state nearly $12m.

    "Ecstatic! It's the great thing that the governor is doing so we can be home with our kids," Lana Lemus, who was released on Monday, told local television station KOCO 5 in Oklahoma City.

    "Been out of her life for three years. But she's my hope. She's never given up on me," Lemus said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies