Things That Matter

Over 400 Oklahoma Inmates Were Released In Largest Commutation In History And Their Stories Are Powerful

On Monday, more than 400 Oklahoma inmates were released from prison following the nation’s largest single-day mass commutation in history. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board unanimously voted to commute the sentences of 527 state inmates. Yesterday, 462 of them were able to walk free while 65 are being held on detainer. 

Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican, former mortgage company CEO, and criminal justice reform advocate, has pledged to step away from outdated policies. Oklahoma has the second-highest incarceration (after Louisiana) in the United States, according to the Sentencing Project.

The freed inmates are all low-level or non-violent offenders who may not have been commuted without Oklahoma voters’ approving criminal justice proposals in 2016. 

Oklahoma governor greets freed inmates at a woman’s prison.

Stitt said he believes the commutation will give many residents a “second chance” at a news conference. 

“This marks an important milestone of Oklahomans wanting to focus the state’s efforts on helping those with nonviolent offenses achieve better outcomes in life,” Stitt said, according to NBC News. “The historic commutation of individuals in Oklahoma’s prisons is only possible because our state agencies, elected officials, and partnering organizations put aside politics and worked together to move the needle.”

The governor attended Dr. Eddie Warrior Center, an all-women’s prison, where now-former inmates were emotionally embracing family and friends. 

“We really want you to have a successful future,” Stitt told the crowd. “This is the first day of the rest of your life. … Let’s make it so you guys do not come back here again.”

The state plans on going beyond just releasing inmates.

“With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans,” Steve Bickley, executive director of the parole board, said in a statement Friday. “However, from Day One, the goal of this project has been more than just the release of low-level, nonviolent offenders, but the successful re-entry of these individuals back into society.”

The state government is not just releasing the inmates, but also making sure they receive a proper government-issued driver’s license or ID card. These are essential items that allow inmates to reintegrate back into society, making jobs and housing more attainable. 

“It has been a moving experience to see our state and community partners help connect our inmates with the resources they need for a successful reentry and I thank Governor Stitt, DOC Director Scott Crow, and the many local nonprofits, churches, and job creators that stepped up to ensure these inmates have every opportunity for success,” Bickley said. 

Voters usher in a new era of criminal justice reform in Oklahoma.

 In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved a ballot measure by a 16 percentage point margin to decrease prison rolls, and to downgrade drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. 

“Basically, in Oklahoma, we’re just warehousing people in prison, and we’re not trying to rehabilitate anybody because of budget constraints,” Bobby Cleveland, a Republican state representative and chairman of the Public Safety Committee, told the New York Times

Stitt, who was elected in 2018, also signed a bill this year that retroactively adjusted sentences for those who had their charges downgraded. This paved the way for the mass commutation to happen expediently. 

The United States has the highest incarceration in the world.

The United States has the largest prison population in the world. According to the Sentencing Project, the 500 percent increase in incarceration rates over the last 40 years is due to policy not an increase in crime. In fact, crime, especially violent crimes have significantly decreased, dropping by 51 percent to 71 percent between 1993 and 2018, Pew Research notes

“Since the official beginning of the War on Drugs in the 1980s, the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses in the U.S. skyrocketed from 40,900 in 1980 to 452,964 in 2017,” the Sentencing Project claims. “Today, there are more people behind bars for a drug offense than the number of people who were in prison or jail for any crime in 1980. The number of people sentenced to prison for property and violent crimes has also increased even during periods when crime rates have declined.”

Unnecessarily high incarceration rates have negative effects on various communities. Moreover, they specifically harm communities of color who are often targets of law enforcement despite numerous studies that show races and ethnicities commit crimes at roughly the same rates. 

While people of color are 37 percent of the United States population, they make up 67 percent of the prison population. Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated as white men while Latinx men are twice as likely — both groups face harsher sentences for committing the same crimes as their white peers. 

Oklahoma, a state where Trump swept every county in 2016, illuminates how criminal justice reform has become a bipartisan issue — simply too many people are affected for the issue to go unchallenged. 

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The Woman Who Stole Nancy Pelosi’s Laptop and Attempted to Sell It To the Russians Has Been Released From Jail

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The Woman Who Stole Nancy Pelosi’s Laptop and Attempted to Sell It To the Russians Has Been Released From Jail

Photo via DAUPHIN COUNTY PRISON

In case you forgot that there are two Americas, let the case of 22-year-old Riley Williams serve as a reminder.

Williams was one of the far-right insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol on January 6th. But Williams was not just any insurrectionist.

The young woman was wanted by the FBI under suspicion of stealing Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s laptop with the intent to sell it to Russian intelligence.

According to a witness–who has been identified as Williams’ ex-boyfriend–the woman “intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.”

Authorities arrested Williamson on January 18th on charges of theft, trespassing and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

However, Riley Williams only stayed in jail for a few days before she was released under the care of her mother. Williams will be required to wear an ankle monitor at all times and will only be able to leave her house for work or other authorized reasons.

Williams’ lawyer says that the claims against her client have been “overstated” and stem from the revenge efforts of an angry ex-boyfriend.

But the FBI says they have video evidence of Williams committing the alleged act.

According to the FBI, an ITV documentary shows Williams on-camera as part of the mob that stormed the Capitol. At one point, she is headed towards Speaker Pelosi’s office. The documentary allegedly shows her entering Speaker Pelosi’s office and swiping the laptop.

Investigators also say they have evidence that Williams wrote on free speech social network Discord: “I DOMT (sic) CARE I TOOK NANCY POLESIS (sic) HARD DRIVES I DON’T CARE KILL ME.”

Of the charges, U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson said: “The gravity of these offenses is great. It cannot be overstated.”

But Williams’ defense team appears to be taking the angle that Williams stormed the Capitol and allegedly stole the laptop at the behest of former President Trump. “It is regrettable that Miss Williams took the president’s bait and went inside the Capitol,” her lawyer told the judge.

Considering Ms. Williams committed literal treason, many people are asking: why isn’t she in jail awaiting her trial?

The outcry over what many consider a double-standard in the justice system has been great. People are pointing out that the justice system treats people who look like Riley Williams with kid gloves, while excessively punishing people of color for lesser offenses.

In particular, people are bringing to light a case that is similar in many ways: the case of Kalief Browder. The parallels of this case are obvious: both suspects were young, both were charged with theft.

But while Kalief Browder allegedly stole a backpack when he 16-years-old and was forced to spend 3 years in Rikers while awaiting trial, Riley Williams was released to the custody of her mother after a few days in jail while being accused of literal treason by the FBI.

It should be noted that, after spending much of his time in Rikers in solitary confinement, Browder committed suicide shortly after his release from prison.

It’s cases like this that show how the class and racial divide in America can literally be the difference between living and dying.

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One Town’s Residents Made A Citizen’s Arrest Of Their Mayor For Alleged Corruption And Shoddy Construction

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One Town’s Residents Made A Citizen’s Arrest Of Their Mayor For Alleged Corruption And Shoddy Construction

QUETZALLI BLANCO/AFP via Getty Images

Residents of a village in Chiapas, Mexico have become so fed up with their mayor that they decided to do something about it. Eschewing long, bureaucratic legal processes to hold him accountable, residents of a southern Chiapas town decided to hold their mayor accountable for what they said was a public works project so poorly done that it was useless.

A mayor in Chiapas was tied to a tree by his own residents for a job done badly.

Residents from eleven neighborhoods of the Chiapas town Comalapa held their mayor accountable for his inaction on a public works project. According to reports, the residents arrested Mayor Óscar Ramírez Aguilar to a tree in a public area to expose him to the rest of the town. They told the newspaper Diario de Chiapas, that they wanted to expose him for the “bad public servant” that he is and that he shouldn’t be reelected.

The townspeople say the municipal water storage cistern — whose installation they say was a campaign promise — is in such poor condition that it does not comply with water safety requirements. It currently has no water, they said, due to leaks, and the residents accuse the government of merely patching the tank — badly — to stop them.

In a video on social media, residents showed how the concrete patch job is already chipping away and easily crumbles.

“He promised us that this would be a public works project worthy of Comalapa residents, but [this tank is] a farce; the water system doesn’t work well. It’s an old problem that he should have attended to properly and should have been a priority during his administration because he came to see us in our homes with this promise, and now he doesn’t want to live up to it,” a resident told the newspaper.

But the mayor is denying what happened in a social media post.

The mayor though has a totally different version of events. After he was released, Ramírez posted a video on his official social media account to counter the residents’ version of the story.

“They did not tie me up,” he claimed. “The meeting was with 11 representatives of Comalapa neighborhoods in order to agree upon details regarding a major public project, the introduction of potable water.”

However, photographs clearly showed the mayor standing before a tree with his hands behind his back.

Three years ago, another local official suffered a similar fate after allegedly failing to deliver promised funds. He was bound to a post in the the central plaza of Comalapa.

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