OKLAHOMA CITY - After weeks of advocacy from a bipartisan coalition including the ACLU of Oklahoma, Governor Stitt announced a bold first step to address COVID-19 in the face of Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. In response to the announcement that 404 people will be released from Oklahoma prisons next week, the ACLU of Oklahoma issued the following statement.
The following can be attributed to Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director:
“Today’s announcement would not be possible without the voter’s work to pass state questions 780 and 781 in 2016, and bipartisan leadership among advocates and legislators to expand upon that with the passage of HB 1269 in 2019. We extend our sincere gratitude to Governor Stitt for this important and initial first step to save lives in the state’s prisons and beyond. While commutations are one critical way to begin to address COVID-19 preparation for Oklahoma prisons and jails, we hope it signals that further critical executive action from the Governor is forthcoming. We need the Governor to push county and municipal officials to take actions to release people being held on arbitrary and unaffordable bonds in county jails, to work to stop the accrual of fines and fees, and further identify candidates for compassionate release. We know as the Governor works with health officials he is aware that a prison outbreak at any facility would quickly overwhelm the healthcare system, and that understaffing issues would only exacerbate the crisis. Our sincere gratitude comes with a continued call for the Governor and other elected leaders across the state to take these urgently critical next steps."
The following can be attributed to Nicole McAfee, Director of Policy and Advocacy:
“Today’s news is a welcome relief to the loved ones who have waited for weeks or months as commutation recommendations sat on the Governor’s desk, fearful of what the pandemic could mean for the health of people they care for. 404 people coming home is an important step, and the kind of leadership we need to see more of in the face of this unprecedented public health crisis. We celebrate it as we continue to work for needed next steps. Because Oklahoma has some of the highest rates of incarceration in the nation, we also have the most work to do to expedite relief in our prisons and jails so that they’re at a capacity better able to provide adequate care in the face of an outbreak. As the pardon and parole board meets again this next week, we hope they will work with Director Crow and Governor Stitt to provide recommendations for compassionate release for aging and chronically ill or medically vulnerable incarcerated people, in addition to their usual recommendations, and we hope the Governor will sign those with haste.”