Several released from JH Lilley as part of mass commutation
By Ken Childers
Over 450 inmates were released from prisons across Oklahoma on Monday in the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. History.
Eleven inmates housed in the John H. Lilley Correctional Center in Boley were on the list of those recommended for commutation. They include Patrick Bayliss, Cecil Brown, Henry Bryant, Mark Davis, Curtis Edwards, Mark Kettrey, Mario Lockett, Chad Lusk, Danny Mata, Reubin Orphan and James Smith.
The release of the prisoners, all of whom were incarcerated for low-level drug and property crimes, was the result of HB 1269, which Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law in May. The bill, stemming from the 2016 passage of State Question 780, retroactively applied misdemeanor sentences for simple drug possession and low-level property crimes.
Since taking office, Stitt has made reducing the state’s incarceration rate – the highest in the nation – one of his top priorities.
According to Stitt’s office, the mass release will save the state an estimated $11.9 million over the cost of continuing to keep the now-free inmates locked up.
On Friday, Nov. 1, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously to recommend the sentences of 527 state inmates be commuted. Sixty five of those inmates are being held on retainers, so only 462 were included in Monday’s release.
“This is a historical day for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, as we send the largest single day commutation of sentences in our nation’s history to the governor’s desk,” Steven Bickley, Executive Director of the Pardon and Parole Board, said in a press release. “With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans. However, from day one, the goal of this project has been more than just the release of low level, non-violent offenders, but the successful reentry of these individuals back into society,” he added.
“I applaud the Pardon and Parole Board’s dedication to fulfill the will of the people through the
HB 1269 docket, giving hundreds of non-violent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance,” said Gov. Stitt. “I also thank the Department of Corrections and the many non-profits who are stepping up and working hard to connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful transition. This event is another mark on our historic timeline as we move the needle in criminal justice reform, and my administration remains committed to working with Oklahomans to pursue bold change that will offer our fellow citizens a second chance while also keeping our communities and streets safe.”
The board considered 814 inmates’ cases during Friday’s special meeting, which was held the first day HB 1269 took effect. The 2019 law enabled the Pardon and Parole Board to hold an accelerated single-stage commutation docket to review the sentences of inmates in prison for crimes which would no longer be considered felonies if charged today. SQ 780 made simple drug possession a misdemeanor and increased the felony dollar threshold from $500 to $1000 for felony property crimes.
The board recommended to the Governor 527 inmates for commutation, of which 75 percent were male. Their average age was 39.7 years old and they had been incarcerated for the past three years. The recommendation was to commute 1,931 years, resulting in inmates being released 1.34 years early on average.