Oklahoma has the highest imprisonment rate in the country.
In November 2016, the state reclassified drug possession and certain theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. This change means that these offenses are no longer eligible for a state prison sentence. However, SQ 780 only applied prospectively, meaning those already serving sentences for 780 offenses were not eligible for relief under the new law.
To help correct the excessive and unjust sentences people are still serving for these crimes, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR), in partnership with FWD.us, launched a campaign in May — Project Commutation — to help some of the most-burdened individuals apply for commutation. We secured the release of 21 individuals — including Felicia, Kayla, and Juanita — who were serving excessive prison sentences for low-level offenses.
Project Commutation spurred the legislature to pass HB 1269, which allowed people currently in prison for SQ 780 offenses to apply for expedited commutation and record expungement. On November of 2019, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend the commutation of sentences for hundreds of Oklahomans serving time for 780 offenses. Governor Stitt promptly signed these recommended commutations allowing 462 Oklahomans (a total of 1,931 years commuted) to be released and reunited with their families and communities.
These stories are a celebration of the hard work of hundreds who participated in the original Project Commutation as well as the passage and implementation of HB1269. But they also serve as a reminder of the thousands more individuals imprisoned in Oklahoma who also deserve to go home to their families.