Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This #GivingTuesday, whatever is your first priority, your second priority has to be independent media.

2021 has been one of the most dangerous and difficult years for independent journalism that we’ve ever seen. Our democracy is facing serial existential threats including the climate emergency, vaccine apartheid amid deadly pandemic, a global crisis for biodiversity, reproductive freedoms under assault, rising authoritarianism worldwide, and corporate-funded corruption of democracy that run beneath all of this. Giving Tuesday is a critical opportunity to make sure our journalism remains funded so that we can stay focused on all your priority issues. Please contribute today to keep Common Dreams alive and growing.

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

Nearly 500 inmates were released from prison in Oklahoma on Monday, three years after voters approved a ballot referendum urging the state to redefine many felonies as misdemeanors and to reduce the prison population. (Photo: © Shepard Sherbell/CORBIS SABA/Corbis via Getty Images)

Largest Sentence Commutation in US History: Nearly 500 Inmates Walk Free After Oklahoma Voters Demand Reform

"That this is largely flying under the radar is probably good—a sign of how far criminal justice reform has come."

Julia Conley

Oklahoma voters' approval of a referendum in 2016 allowed for nearly 500 inmates to walk free on Monday from the state's massive prison system—the largest single-day commutation in U.S. history.

Four hundred and sixty-two people had their sentences commuted as a result of Question 780, which asked voters if they approved of recategorizing many felonies, including drug possession and minor property crimes, as misdemeanors. The referendum passed by a 16 percent margin.

This year, state lawmakers also made the new law retroactive and allowed parole boards to quickly review many inmates' cases. A total of 527 sentences were commuted; 65 people will also be released early at a later date.

Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called the historic commutation on Monday a "step forward in the fight to end mass incarceration."

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the ACLU in Oklahoma, noted the significance of Oklahoma voters' call for reforms to the criminal justice system.

"From the 30,000-foot view, the criminal justice landscape is light-years ahead of where it was three or four years ago," Kiesel told the Washington Post. "It would have been impossible before State Question 780 passed in Oklahoma; that signaled to lawmakers there was an appetite for reform."

German Lopez, a journalist at Vox, wrote that the fact that there appears to be little outcry over the release of nearly 500 inmates "is probably good—a sign of how far criminal justice reform has come."

In addition to the crime reclassifications, the state is offering new resources to inmates to assist them with re-entry into society following their sentences. Former prisoners will be given a state-issued ID to help them secure housing and work, and will be connected with housing and counseling services.

Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU's justice division, emphasized that with more than 26,000 Oklahomans still living in the state's prison system, more work needs to be done regarding sentencing laws.

"Oklahoma will never substantially reduce its prison population until it tackles sentencing enhancements," Ofer told the New York Times.

Legislators are currently weighing reforms that end long sentences for repeat offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes, shorten drug sentences, and limit the use of cash bail.

The state's Pardon and Parole Board is expected to commute sentences for nearly 1,000 people as a result of the law making the referendum retroactive. More than 800 people applied for commutation on Friday, when the new law went into effect. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Number of Covid Boosters Given in US Exceeds Single Shots in 8 African Nations Combined

"Our leaders' failure to help bring the vaccines to everyone, everywhere will keep us on a cruel and never-ending cycle of illness, death, and economic suffering."

Jake Johnson ·


Omar Hangs Up After Boebert Uses Call to Double Down on 'Outright Bigotry and Hate'

"Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Rep. Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments."

Jessica Corbett ·


Win for Alabama Workers as NLRB Orders New Union Vote After Amazon's Alleged Misconduct

A union leader said the decision confirmed that "Amazon's intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace."

Jessica Corbett ·


'For the Sake of Peace,' Anti-War Groups Demand Biden Return to Nuclear Deal With Iran

"It's time to put differences aside and return to the Iran nuclear deal," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'That's for Them to Decide': UK Secretary Rebuked for Claiming Vaccine Patent Waiver Won't Be 'Helpful' to Global Poor

One U.K. lawmaker asked when the government would "start putting the need to end this pandemic in front of the financial interests of Big Pharma?"

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo