OK Policy joined seven other organizations in calling for Gov. Stitt to approve 283 commutations to decrease prison overcrowding and reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Amid the state’s growing COVID-19 public health crisis, eight organizations are urging Governor Stitt to grant more than 200 unsigned commutations to reduce the risk of an outbreak in Oklahoma prisons — Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, Mental Health Association of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, ACLU of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Policy Institute, Still She Rises, Oklahoma Conference of Churches and Blockbuilderz. Oklahoma’s prisons are at 108 percent capacity, and a virus like COVID-19 can easily overwhelm the state’s overcrowded prisons where incarcerated people have less access to basic hygiene items, cannot social distance, and many areas are communal.
Rural hospitals stand to suffer the most from these conditions. Fifty Oklahoma counties, largely in rural areas, have no ICU beds. Many of our state’s overcrowded prisons are also located in these rural areas, putting area hospitals at severe risk of being unable to handle a prison outbreak of COVID-19.
The most vulnerable to COVID-19 are those who are 65 and older and those who have chronic illnesses or are immunocompromised. According to Oklahoma Policy Institute, roughly 20 percent of Oklahoma’s prison population is over the age of 50, meaning many could lose their lives if a COVID-19 outbreak occurred.
Since December 2019, the Pardon and Parole Board has approved 283 commutations Gov. Stitt has yet to sign. If granted, these commutations would help reduce prison overcrowding and decrease the public health threat of a COVID-19 outbreak within our state’s prisons. Together, these eight organizations are urging Gov. Stitt to approve the recommended commutations to safely address this public health risk.
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Brenda Warren, mother of a DOC inmate eligible for release:
“My son received commutation on December 11, 2019 from the Pardon and Parole Board, taking his sentence from 32 years to 15 years. He could have been released on the same day. But due to the fact that the Governor has failed to sign any recommendations for parole or commutation since January, my son is still awaiting release.
He has been proven to be a ‘trusted inmate,’ which allows him to work in the Administration offices at the prison for the Unit Managers. This is a big honor, or at least was until COVID-19 created a big chance of him being infected. He and his peers have been told they will go into an old gymnasium on the property and social distancing will be initiated if they are exposed to the virus. They have not been given any additional ways to sanitize. Imagine how that brings morale down. Another important issue is that signing these commutations would have saved the state of Oklahoma almost $900,000 in the month of December.”