WASHINGTON, DC – FWD.us President Todd Schulte issued the following statement today in support of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and the announcement of their new commutation campaign to correct unjust prison sentences:
“We are very proud to stand with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, the state coalition working to reduce Oklahoma’s highest-in-the nation incarceration rate. A critical piece of that work is the commutation campaign being announced today. Commutations are a tool to address excessive and unjust prison sentences. We are grateful to the Pardon and Parole Board who today advanced 23 deserving applicants to the next phase of review.
“Over the next several months, as applicants move through the commutation process, we look forward to sharing the individual stories of Oklahomans who should be home with their families instead of serving lengthy and excessive prison sentences. And we know there is much more work to do for Oklahoma to shed its status as the nation’s top incarcerator.
“FWD.us was proud to support State Question 780 in 2016 and this commutation effort builds on the resounding support from voters to reform Oklahoma’s criminal justice system.”
Commutation Campaign Seeks to Correct Unjust Prison Sentences
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR) is announcing a commutation campaign to help Oklahomans who are in prison for offenses no longer carrying long prison terms under reforms recently approved by voters and legislators. For the rest of 2018, the campaign will assist several dozen incarcerated Oklahomans with pursuing commutation, beginning with 23 women whose commutation applications were advanced for further review by the Pardon and Parole Board on Monday.
Commutation is a common legal process used nationwide as well as in Oklahoma to correct excessive, unjust sentences. Commutation modifies sentences but does not erase convictions.
“This commutation campaign follows the will of voters and legislators to begin fixing Oklahoma’s draconian criminal justice system. Oklahoma has to look at all responsible options to alleviate its status as the most incarcerated state, and legal commutations like these are one of those options,” said Sarah Edwards, a Crowe Dunlevy attorney, former associate general counsel for Gov. Brad Henry and board member of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.
Additional applications from individuals being supported by this campaign will receive initial consideration in September from the board, which under Oklahoma law uses an extensive two-part process to consider applications that ultimately must be approved by the governor.
“This is a fiscally and socially sound initiative to look into carefully-selected sentences to bring them in line with current law. The cases under examination involve inmates with convictions whose sentences may have exceeded their intended goals. We look forward to working with all stakeholders to safely reduce Oklahoma’s bloated prison population,” said Andrew Speno, Oklahoma state director for Right on Crime, a conservative advocacy organization that is a member of the OCJR coalition.
In addition to pursuing sentence modification through commutation, the campaign will also help individuals whose applications are successful secure reentry services and, when appropriate, treatment services.
“We’re just as interested in these people succeeding once they leave prison as we are in seeing their sentence modified to fit current law. Our faith, reentry and treatment partners statewide are prepared to responsibly receive these Oklahomans back into their communities should their applications be granted,” Edwards said. “This campaign’s priority is community safety. We know prison isn’t the right place for these people, and we stand ready to assist them if they are freed.”
Voters in 2016 approved State Question 780, reclassifying several low-level felonies as misdemeanors, and legislators approved further smart sentencing reforms in the 2018 session. Still, people incarcerated prior to those law changes remain in prison for offenses like simple drug possession, which is now a misdemeanor carrying no prison term. An analysis by OCJR shows 1,600 people remain in prison for simple possession alone, and many face sentences far longer than they would face in other states.
OCJR’s commutation campaign began in May. Since then, a team of legal and criminal justice experts has been thoroughly vetting eligible individuals to find those most prepared to successfully reenter society. The team has vetted more than 100 individuals whose controlling offense is:
- No longer a felony because of SQ 780
- No longer punishable by incarceration because of bills passed in the 2018 session
- Otherwise unjust against a mother
Through the vetting process, the campaign identified 48 select cases to assist by helping incarcerated individuals make application to the Pardon and Parole Board for commutation of their sentence. Under the Pardon and Parole Board’s process, approved applications could be on the governor’s desk to consider by December.