Nearly 750 prisoners applied in the first four months of the year for their sentences to be commuted, according to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
The board’s general counsel, Justin Wolf, said that’s almost twice the number of applications submitted by the end of April last year, The Oklahoman reported. More than 560 inmates submitted applications last month, Wolf noted.
“We’re doing our best to keep afloat,” said Melinda Romero, the agency’s interim executive director. “We’re processing them as fast as we can.”
Commutation is a form of clemency intended to correct an unjust or excessive sentence.
Officials attributed the surge in commutation applications to a measure that became effective in 2017 that made some drug and property crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies but didn’t apply retroactively.
But last month, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a legislation that will make the measure apply to past convictions starting Nov. 1. The new law also directs the board to accelerate the commutation process.
“A lot of people are seeking commutation on those,” Romero said.
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform teamed up with the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office, University of Tulsa law students and community partners to help a group of inmates apply for commutation, prepare for hearings before the board and make re-entry plans.
“It’s the talk of the prison yard in a lot of prisons statewide,” said John Estus, chief of staff for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. “We’re discovering very compelling cases that people are filing on their own because they feel like they have a chance now.”
Board member C. Allen McCall said the campaign is a good program that’s worth the board’s time.
The five-member board meets monthly to review pardon, parole and commutation requests. Only the governor can grant a commutation, but applicants must first pass through two stages of review within the board and receive a favorable recommendation from board members.
“We want to send good cases to the governor,” McCall said.