More than 400 Oklahoma prison inmates were released Monday in the largest single-day communication in U.S. history, as officials look to move away from policies that have led to the state having the highest incarceration rate in the country.
The state Pardon and Parole Board approve the inmates’ release on Friday after recommending commutation for 527 inmates.
The board considered 814 cases in all.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, left, poses for a selfie with Joy Block, right, of Tulsa, Okla., following a news conference Friday to announce that Oklahoma will release more than 400 inmates after the board approved what they say is the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Their convictions for low-level drug and property crimes were reduced to misdemeanors after Gov. Kevin Stitt this year signed a House bill, which retroactively applied the sentence reductions.
The Republican governor shook the hands of dozens of women as they were released from the Dr. Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft. He encouraged the newly released inmates to seek help from the state and nonprofit groups to aid their reintegration into society.
“We really want you to have a successful future,” Stitt told a crowd outside. “This is the first day of the rest of your life. … Let’s make it so you guys do not come back here again.”
Another 15 women left the Kate Barnard Community Correctional Facility in Oklahoma City to hugs and cheers, KOKH-TV reported.
“I’m excited, I’m ready. I’m ready to go,” said Leigh Silverhorn, who served six months of a 10-year sentence for marijuana possession.
Shannon Brown, who served 20 months of her 12-year sentence for drug possession hugged her daughter as she left the facility.
“I love you so much. Oh my god. I’m so glad to see you,” she said, according to the news station.
Voters approved a criminal justice reform bill in a 2016 statewide referendum. The state will save nearly $12 million by releasing the inmates early.
To ensure their success, the inmates were released with a state-issued driver’s license or identification card, which is necessary to secure jobs and housing.
Monday’s commutation event was the largest since former President Barack Obama commuted sentences for 330 federal inmates in one of his last acts in office.