University of Tulsa College of Law students working as interns this summer with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform helped to identify and interview 49 Oklahoma inmates for possible commutations. Most of the inmates are serving long sentences for drug offenses that are now a misdemeanor because of a change in law.
The state Pardon and Parole Board will take up the first group of 23 commutation requests in August with the balance considered in September. If the requests are recommended by the parole board and approved by the governor, the length of the prison terms will be reduced.
A push for commutations has been sparked by the passage of State Question 780, which states that nonviolent drug possession offenses and low-level property offenses are misdemeanors instead of felonies.
“What the students are doing is just telling the stories of the people who are in prison for crimes that the people of Oklahoma don’t really think we should be locking people up for,” said TU Law Professor Stephen Galoob.
TU Law student Kate Forest said talking with inmates taught her that “there is very little that separates us from these applicants — just a series of events and situations.”
The student interns included Forest, Colleen McCarty, Michael Olson, Elijah Johnson, Kendall Conway, Morgan Maxey, Alexandra Fleming and Jarred Jennings.
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform is a coalition of business and community leaders, law enforcement experts and advocates across the state. It is led by former state House Speaker Kris Steele.