A total of 462 inmates left Monday through the gates of Oklahoma prisons as part of what state officials called the mass commutation on a single larger day in the history of the United States.
The release of the inmates, who were paying convictions for drug and minor offenses, was the result of a bill signed by the new Republican governor Kevin Stitt. The bill retroactively applied misdemeanor sentences for simple drug possession and low-level property crimes that state voters passed in 2016.
The board that decided who would be released considered 814 cases and recommended 527 inmates for commutation. However, 65 were still detained and will be released days later, leaving about 462 inmates released on Monday.RELATED
Stitt has made the reduction of Oklahoma's incarceration rates one of his top priorities and has appointed members with a reformist mentality for the State Board of Pardons and Probation.
Freeing inmates will save Oklahoma an estimated $ 11.9 million over the cost of continuing to keep them behind bars, according to the governor's office.
The measure, in addition to reducing overcrowded prisons, helps low-level criminals build a life of self-sufficiency and avoid reincarceration.
"Now is the first day of the rest of his life," Governor Kevin Stitt told the released inmates.
He and other officials promised help with what could be a challenging transition for many. "We really want him to have a successful future," said the governor.
"It feels amazing to be on the other side of the fence," said Tess Harjo, a 28-year-old girl who was released Monday from the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, Oklahoma.
Harjo was sentenced to 15 years in prison after her conviction in Okmulgee County last year for possession of methamphetamines. She said she was surprised by the number of women she met in prison who served long sentences for drug offenses.
"I have met many women here who came from a medium or maximum security prison who have already turned 18 or older," Harjo said. "It's ridiculous".
Steve Bickley, the new executive director of the Board of Pardons and Probation, said Monday's release is the largest in a single day, overcoming President Barack Obama's 2017 commutation of the drug convictions of 330 federal prisoners in his Last day in office.
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