OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt approved more than 400 commutations last week, leading to the release of 111 inmates.
A release from Stitt’s office initially said the commutations were to help with social distancing, but they would later clarify it was to help with general overcrowding -- not to combat the coronavirus.
Assistant Public Defender Glen Blake at the Tulsa County Public Defender’s Office says many of these inmates have been going through the commutation process since December. He says families of those incarcerated have had growing concerns of overcrowded facilities during this pandemic, especially for those serving felony sentences for crimes that have been reclassified as misdemeanors.
“Being released in such a critical time I think has been amazing. It has been overwhelming for some people, and so many people are relieved to have their loved ones out of custody,” Blake said.
Blake said it’s important to make sure these individuals aren’t just given a pat on the back before being sent out for failure. He said the Pardon & Parole Board and Department of Corrections have made a huge shift to aid released inmates to help them re-enter their community. He says there are several services out there that help with mental health, substance abuse, housing and employment.
Mike Brose, CEO of Mental Health Association Oklahoma, says their organization has been involved with supporting criminal justice reform for the last several years. Brose says many of these individuals are non-violent offenders and have done their time. That’s why they work with several faith groups and non-profits to support these people and their families.
“Our position from a public policy standpoint is, again, we’re talking about non-violent offenders and what we need to do is hold them accountable,” Brose said.
He added, “Both sides of the political spectrum want to see the tax payers save money and they want to see better outcomes.”
Brose says there’s no doubt employment and housing may be a challenge during this pandemic, but they are still working to help those in need connect with those services.
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