OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt has approved 452 inmates for commutations to decrease prison crowding and reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, he said Friday.
“We’ve been working diligently with the Pardon and Parole Board to safely reduce the prison population amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stitt said in a press release. “In these unprecedented times, we must take action while safeguarding our Department of Corrections staff, inmate population and the public.”
The Governor’s Office is recommending that the inmates self-quarantine for 14 days if they’re coming from a facility with a known case of COVID-19.
The Department of Health is also working with the Department of Corrections to provide COVID-19 tests to anyone who needs one.
The bulk of the offenders were commuted to time served and are to be released on Thursday once the Oklahoma Department of Corrections processes the paperwork, according to Stitt’s office.
Earlier this month, eight organizations urged Stitt to grant the commutations, saying a virus like COVID-19 can easily overwhelm the overcrowded prisons where incarcerated individuals have less access to basic hygiene items and cannot social distance. Many prisons have communal areas. The organizations included Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, ACLU of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Conference of Churches and the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma.
“Gov. Stitt and the Pardon and Parole Board have continued their commitment to reducing Oklahoma’s prison population,” said Kris Steele, director for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. “Our state’s prison population, our correctional staff and our rural hospitals are especially vulnerable during this health crisis. I applaud the governor’s leadership and his actions. I truly believe the actions taken today will save lives, reconnect families and ultimately make our state a safer place.”
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections on Tuesday said an inmate at the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center in McAlester tested positive for COVID-19.
Six facility staff members and one probation and parole officer, none of whom are based out of Jackie Brannon Correctional Center, also tested positive, according to DOC. The agency said the Oklahoma State Department of Health provided masks for all inmates and staff.
In addition, the agency ordered all prisons to secure inmates in their cells while allowing access to necessary services, such as meals and pharmacy services.
The move was designed to protect the health of inmates and staff and not as a disciplinary measure.
“All the inmates in the state have access to free soap,” said Matt Elliott, a DOC spokesman. “In addition to that we have significantly increased our sanitation inside facilities.”
Oklahoma Correctional Industries is also making alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which is being provided to inmates and staff, Elliott said.
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