Hundreds of Oklahoma inmates may be released under new law

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — New criminal justice guidelines will likely make hundreds of Oklahoma inmates eligible for accelerated release from prison, according to the executive director of the state Pardon and Parole Board.

The board’s staff is working with the Department of Corrections to ensure a single-stage commutation docket mandated by a new law will be implemented with “excellence” and “urgency,” Executive Director Steven Bickley told the board Monday.

A statewide referendum adopted in 2016 made simple drug possession a misdemeanor and increased the threshold for felony property crimes from $500 to $1,000. Legislation signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt this year makes its provisions retroactive.

State pardon and parole officials say the new law could make hundreds of inmates eligible for an accelerated commutation process when it takes effect Nov. 1, The Oklahoman reported.

The board authorized its staff to schedule an accelerated single-stage docket when it receives a list of potentially eligible inmates from the Department of Corrections.

Bickley said officials plan to divide that group into three dockets. The first priority will be offenders whose only charge is simple possession.

“Those are the ones that would be eligible for release,” Bickley said. He said they expect about 800, possibly more, people will be eligible for release from that group.

Another group includes offenders whose longest sentence is simple possession, but who also have other active felonies. Those inmates may get some benefit, but they won’t be released immediately, Bickley said.

A third group is offenders serving time for simple possession and other felonies who will see no difference to their incarceration time because of the sentence length of the other felonies, Bickley said.