Friday, November 01, 2019

State Rep. Echols celebrates mass commutation as bill becomes law

Echols Bill Moves Oklahoma Out of No. 1 in Incarceration

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma will shed its status as the No. 1 incarcerator in the nation when more than 450 prisoners are released Nov. 4 under the provisions of House Bill 1269, authored by House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City). The action is being called the largest commutation release of prisoners in U.S. history.

“Oklahoma is no longer the nation’s top incarcerator,” Echols said. “This historic moment is the clearest proof yet that legislators are listening to the people and acting on criminal justice reform. Oklahoma is going to continue to take smart, practical steps like this one to further reduce our incarceration rate in a responsible manner. Oklahoma’s prison population has been in a sustained decline for three years now, and we aim to maintain that safe, steady decline well into the future.”

Echols attended today’s Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board meeting during which the prisoners received board recommendations for sentence commutations under the provisions of HB 1269, which alters simple drug possession and low-level property crime charges. After the meeting, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced he will quickly approve the commutations so the commuted Oklahomans can be released Monday. This move reduces Oklahoma’s incarceration rate by 1.7%, placing the state in the No. 2 spot for persons incarcerated per capita – behind Louisiana and slightly above Mississippi.

“The action taken today represents the largest measure to date to reduce the incarceration rate in Oklahoma,” Echols said. “This is a completely new day for the people granted their freedom. I’m thankful to help them rejoin their families, get to work and become productive members of our communities without the burden of a felony on a criminal record. I pray they take advantage of every opportunity afforded them to further their education or enhance their workforce skills and to get other help needed so they can continue to live in freedom.”

Oklahoma’s prison population this week, according to the Department of Corrections, was 26,334 out of a state population of 3,943,079. The projected prison population after Monday’s release is 25,884, taking the prison incarceration rate from 667.8 per 100,000 citizens to 656.4. Louisiana’s per capita prison incarceration rate is 682.6 and Mississippi’s is 648.3, based on analysis of the most recent prison populations reported by those states.

HB 1269 applies retroactively to inmates serving time for simple drug possession and property crimes valued at less than $1,000. Voters approved the reclassification of these crimes from felonies to misdemeanors with the passage of State Question 780 in 2016. HB 1269 made the change retroactive to those previously sentenced. The bill was a bipartisan effort.

Echols said this is one of many thoughtful and pragmatic steps taking place in overall criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. The Legislature for three years in a row has focused on reforms to reduce the state’s incarceration rate. Echols said he and other lawmakers will pursue additional reforms in the upcoming legislative session and going forward.

In advance of today’s move, the Department of Corrections held several transition fairs in which inmates were connected with organizations available to help them with housing, transportation, employment, health care, mental health care and mentoring upon their release.


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