Oklahoma parole board approves largest inmate commutation in US history

Oklahoma officials voted Friday to release more than 400 prison inmates in what would be the largest one-day commutation in U.S. history.

The vote by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board granted commutation to 527 inmates, 400 of whom are scheduled to be released Monday once their commutations are processed over the weekend.

Oklahoma's Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has made reducing the state's prison population a priority, backed the panel's decision.

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Kevin Stitt, then governor-elect of Oklahoma, right, speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. The state plans to release more than 400 inmates Monday in the largest one-day commutation ever. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Kevin Stitt, then governor-elect of Oklahoma, right, speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. The state plans to release more than 400 inmates Monday in the largest one-day commutation ever. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

"The governor plans to review and take immediate action on the ... docket as soon as he receives the board's recommendations on Friday," Stitt spokeswoman Baylee Lakey said. "The governor applauds the Pardon and Parole Board's dedication to fulfill the will of the people through the ... docket, giving hundreds of non-violent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance."

The board's action comes after the passing of House Bill 1269, which reclassifies some low-level drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

Stitt's signing of the bill applied those sentences retroactively, clearing the way for the single-day commutations.

He tweeted Friday that his goal is about "changing the culture & process as we prepare to release individuals & to help set them up for success upon reentry into society."

Steve Bickley, the new executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board, said Monday's release would be the largest since former President Barack Obama's last act in office -- he commuted the sentences of 330 federal prisoners.

The board initially considered the cases of 814 inmates jailed for simple possession and another 98 convicted of low-level property offenses, but some had additional sentences to serve or were otherwise ineligible.

"At the end of the process, we expect the amount to be discharged to be in excess of 400," Bickley said. "A lot of work has been done to make sure the spirit of the law is being implemented. We're not blanketly saying everybody should get out prison. We're trying to do what's right and fair."

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It would cost the state around $12 million to have the inmates serve their full sentences, officials said, according to KOCO-TV.

"Historically, many in Oklahoma have seen incarceration and excessive sentences as politically expedient," said former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele. "We are breaking away from that model as we understand not only does it generally make a situation worse, but it also costs a fortune."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.