Many Fewer Inmates Being Released after Commutations than Governor’s Office Announced

Apr 15, 2020

Women with commuted drug and property crime sentences walk out of Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in November 2019.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Governor Kevin Stitt’s office said last week 404 inmates with sentences commuted to time served will be getting out of prison Thursday, but that’s not the case.

According the the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, 111 inmates will be released.

Others are serving time for felonies other than drug or property crimes that have since been reduced to misdemeanors, and discharging those other crimes requires more steps from the parole board, not just those Stitt took Friday.

“He did everything legally he could do. People who are saying he should release everyone on the 16th, he can’t. He doesn’t have the legal authority to do that,” said Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director Steven Bickley.

Bickley said all inmates with commuted sentences will get out sooner, but it would have been more accurate to say the process of releasing them would start tomorrow.

ACLU Oklahoma Director of Policy and Advocacy Nicole McAfee said prisons are overcrowded and house many people at risk of serious complications from COVID-19, which is present in correctional facilities.

“What we’re talking about here is not just exposure in a way that could get someone sick. We’re talking about what quickly becomes a death sentence,” McAfee said.

McAfee says the governor and prison officials should consider medical and compassionate release dockets to speed up releases.

Bickley said during Monday’s Pardon and Parole Board meeting he wants to find a way to reduce the turnaround time for commutations to as little as 30 days. Part of that plan would involve prioritizing inmates with the earliest possible release dates for dockets and calling special meetings to approve dockets sooner.