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Some Offenders Released From Prisons To Stop COVID-19 Spread

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt hand delivers hundreds of commutation certificates in November 2019.

UPDATE (4/15): The Pardon and Parole board says the Governor's office mistakenly announced that 404 prisoners would be released on Thursday. The number of those released will likely be much smaller.

As chances of widespread coronavirus circulation in state prisons mounts, Gov. Kevin Stitt is sending 404 prisoners home early.

Stitt is following recommendations made by the state Pardon and Parole Board as part of its normal business before the governor declared a state of emergency.

The prisoners will be released as soon as their paperwork is processed on Thursday. The governor is also ordering shortened sentences for 48 additional prisoners.

Stitt’s office said in a news release the governor is trying to decrease prison overcrowding and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading.

"In these unprecedented times, we must take action while safeguarding our Department of Corrections staff, inmate population and the public," Stitt said in a statement.

The state’s prison system has already seen a handful of positive COVID-19 cases. In the past two weeks, several corrections officers tested positive in addition to one prisoner.

The Governor's office recommends the inmates self-quarantine for 14 days if they’re coming from a facility with a known case of COVID-19.

Criminal justice reform advocates applauded the governor’s decision, but they say these releases were low hanging fruit. Advocates hope the governor and pardon and parole take more drastic action to reduce the state's prison population before prison COVID-19 cases increase.

Quinton Chandler worked at StateImpact Oklahoma from January 2018 to August 2021, focusing on criminal justice reporting.
Michael Cross is the host of KOSU's Morning Edition.
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