Chapter 1


Oklahoma’s Reform Story Continues to Be Written

At the end of 2016, Oklahoma had the highest incarceration rate in the country, with Oklahomans 65% more likely to be in jail or prison than someone who lived in another state. Recognizing that these high rates of incarceration were not making Oklahoma safer, more just, or more productive, voters and policymakers started to make long overdue changes to the criminal justice system.

Woman reunites with family outside of prison gates.

July 2017

State Question 780 and 781 go into effect

On July 1, 2017, SQ 780 and SQ 781 went into effect. SQ 780 reclassified simple drug possession and some low-level property offenses as misdemeanors that can no longer be punished with a prison sentence. SQ 781 required prison savings from SQ 780 to fund county-based mental health and substance use treatment. These important reforms were approved by a majority of Oklahoma voters to reduce penalties and reinvest the savings into community treatment.

Prison admissions for simple drug possession plummeted from nearly 1,900 in FY17 to 78 in FY21.

February 2018

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) is formed

April 2018

Oklahoma legislators pass slate of sentencing, parole, and reentry bills that safely reduce sentences

Oklahoma’s sentence lengths were far longer than the national average. Because of the Republican-led law changes, people served shorter sentence lengths in Oklahoma without compromising public safety.

Reduction in mean sentence length for select drug and property crimes for people sentenced directly to prison, FY18 vs. FY21.
Grand larceny
Burglary in the second degree
Larceny of an automobile/aircraft
Larceny of merchandise from a retailer
Distribution of/possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance
Receipt or possession of a stolen vehicle
Advocates and families celebrate the release of Project Commutation clients.

May 2018

Project Commutation launched

Project Commutation was a push by community leaders, advocates, and law students at the University of Tulsa to help people with excessive sentences— sentences that would not be legal under current law or were clearly excessive by any moral standard — seek relief. This campaign led to the successful commutation of sentences for 28 people in December of 2018. Governor Fallin signed the commutations in time for them to return to their communities and families before the holidays. Project Commutation continues to help people facing excessive sentences.

October 2018

Tulsa County starts bond docket


February 2019

New Pardon and Parole Board (PPB) members appointed

May 2019

Legislature passes and governor signs HB 1269

November 2019

Governor Stitt approves the release of over 400 people in prison for simple possession and low-level theft

On November 1, 2019, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend the commutation of sentences for hundreds of Oklahomans made eligible for a special commutation docket by HB 1269. This docket was promptly signed by Governor Kevin Stitt, which resulted in the release of 462 Oklahomans (a total of 1,931 years commuted) to be reunited with their families and communities.

Governor Stitt commutes a historic number of sentences.

March 2020

COVID-19 causes prison population reduction

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increased risk of transmission among incarcerated individuals in prison facilities, Oklahoma halted admissions to its state- and privately-run prison facilities for the second half of March and for all of April and May 2020. For several months thereafter, admissions resumed at a decreased rate.

The DOC population dropped by nearly 900 people in the 15 weeks after the COVID-19 emergency declared.


May 2021

Oklahoma legislators pass Sarah Stitt Act and expand medical parole

May 2021

Tulsa County launches misdemeanor diversion program

Fall 2021

Oklahoma County launches misdemeanor diversion program

November 2021

Governor Stitt commutes Julius Jones’ sentence


May 2022

Slate of reentry bills pass

June 2022

Oklahoma County voters approve funds for new jail


Oklahoma simultaneously reduced crime and the prison and jail populations

After five years of progress, more Oklahomans are home with their families and contributing to their communities. Oklahoma reduced crime, the number of felony charges, the prison and jail populations, and the number of people in prison for nonviolent crimes all at the same time.

Smaller, Better, Fairer, Safer

Oklahoma’s Republican state leaders and voter support has led to common sense criminal justice reforms that have changed the lives of thousands of Oklahomans. The effect of these reforms is a smaller prison system with better public safety outcomes. More is needed to build on this progress and bring Oklahoma’s incarceration rate in line with other states.
​​Jails in Oklahoma County and Tulsa County reduced bookings significantly since 2016.
Oklahoma County and Tulsa County annual jail bookings, 2016-2021
Oklahoma's prison population declined 21% in five years.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections prison population, 2017-2022
The number of people in prison for drug crimes declined 62% and property crimes declined 43% in five years.
People in prison by controlling offense type, FY16 vs. FY21
Female prison population declined 30% since 2016.
People in prison by gender, FY16 vs. FY21

Continuing to Turn the Page on Oklahoma’s Story

The improvements that have been made to the criminal justice system in the last five years show that progress is possible. Voters and policymakers have taken the first steps, but more work remains to safely reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rate and strengthen its economy, communities, and families.

Hear Kevin share how progress in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system changed his life.
Oklahoma's prison population in 2017: