We wanted to make sure you saw this NPR piece on Reggie Nicholson, an Oklahoma man who was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,650 years for a non-violent crime when his daughter was just 8 years old. After serving 17 years in prison, Reggie’s sentence was commuted.
Unfortunately, extreme sentences like Reggie’s are all too common in Oklahoma. Since 2018, Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform (OCJR), in partnership with FWD.us, has been working to help people like Reggie serving excessive and unjust sentences to be reunited with their families in a campaign called Project Commutation.
Our efforts spurred lawmakers to pass a reform in 2019 that allowed people serving time for drug possession and low-level property crimes, which are now misdemeanors under current law, to apply for commutation. Governor Kevin Stitt signed the bill, and, last November, approved the commutations of 527 people, the largest single-day commutation in the country’s history.
The article highlights the leadership of Kris Steele, former Republican Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Executive Director of OCJR, and his efforts to reduce the prison population in Oklahoma.
“…The hard part’s over with. I know the true test is when you walk out of prison. But I believe that as far as getting my time commuted and, you know, getting the time up off me, I think that’s the hard part. I’ve got that done, so I’m ready to go out there and see what the world has to offer me. And I’m still pretty young. So, I mean, I just thank God that he gave me another chance.”
“I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. You know what I mean? So I’ve always been close to him even though he’s always been far away…It’s different from seeing somebody in a casket versus going to, you know, a prison and you can’t leave with the person that you want to leave with that’s breathing. That person has life. You know what I mean?”
“You know, they said back then that he wouldn’t get out. And God told me that that wasn’t going to happen to my son. You can only imagine he can’t wait to have a good dinner. He just want a good homemade meal.”
“As a lifelong Oklahoman, I would tell you that our faith is part of our culture, and we boast about how important it is to us when we run for office. And yet, we have created a system that is almost entirely based on retribution and punishment…It would be one thing if mass incarceration actually worked in reducing crime or improving public safety. It does not. In fact, not only does Oklahoma have higher incarceration rates, our crime rate is not decreasing nearly as rapidly as in other states. And so it just doesn’t make any sense.”