Oklahoma has the nation's highest incarceration rate for women, but the prison population is about to get a little bit smaller.
Wednesday, Nov. 7, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board recommended 22 women for release, and 2016’s State Question 780 helped to make it possible.
Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform took on the women's cases, because some of them have been serving decade-plus sentences for drug possession crimes that are now simple misdemeanors under the new law.
The advocacy group says this is just the beginning.
Juanita Peralta's children are just some of the loved ones celebrating. The mother of six was sentenced to 15 years for drug possession, leaving her daughter Destiny Pinon to raise her younger siblings.
“I’ve struggled a lot without having my best friend, but I have had a lot of support,” Pinon said.
Peralta says she is done with drugs and now plans to go to college.
Pinon, who spoke at the hearing on her mother’s behalf, said she was nervous.
“I was nervous coming in, very nervous, because I wasn’t sure what the outcome was, but I’m happy,” Pinon said.
Twenty-two of the 23 women working with OCJR succeeded in their commutation hearings. Next year the group wants legislators to review the rest of the cases that fall under State Question 780.
“There’s over 1,000 folks in for simple drug possession that, if charged today would not be incarcerated, and we’d like to see those charges retroactive,” OCJR board member Danielle Ezell said.
For this first group of women, all they need now to walk free is Governor Mary Fallin’s signature.
“She has been watching this process closely, and we’re excited to get these applications to her desk and we expect she will act quickly,” OCJR chief of staff John Estus said.
The goal is to have these women home to their families by Thanksgiving. OCJR is currently helping eight additional inmates, whose hearings are coming up in December.