Oklahoma has a long reputation for handing out long sentences for drug crimes, and until 2015, state law required a mandatory life sentence for anyone convicted of drug trafficking after two prior felony drug conviction. That law was repealed in 2015, but it left dozens of men and women serving sentences of life or life without parole for nonviolent drug crimes.
With the overcrowding of Oklahoma prisons and the readily apparent failure of the war on drugs, it has become abundantly clear that life without parole and mandatory minimum drug sentences are not working for the state. In an effort to reduce the nonviolent prison population, and to provide a means for some of these drug offenders to eventually be released from prison, Governor Mary Fallin has begun commuting the sentences of several Oklahoma inmates.
An attorney representing one of the 52 Oklahoma inmates still serving life without parole for drug crimes said, "There is a huge disconnect for the people with this sentence.They get into prison serving life without parole for drugs and they see violent or very violent criminals serving nowhere near that amount of time."
Since June 2016, the governor has commuted the sentences of 25 inmates serving life without parole for drug crimes. This number includes 14 inmates mid-April, and the most recent four, which she approved at the end of the month.
The four inmates to most recently receive commutation of their sentences follow:
- William Dufries, 59, a Florida man who was convicted of transporting 67 pounds of marijuana in an RV after being pulled over for a broken taillight. He claimed he was transporting the marijuana to help pay medical bills.
- K.O. Cooper, 76, who is believed to be the oldest inmate serving life without parole for drug crimes. He was convicted in 2012 for selling cocaine out of his Enid home.
- Kevin Martin, 55
- Jesse Rose, 58
If sentenced today, these men would likely face up to 20 years in prison, rather than the life without parole they were given upon conviction.
It is important to realize, though, that the governor's commutation is not a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for these men. Instead, Governor Fallin has commuted (or reduced) their sentences from life without parole to simply life. In other words, the clemency does not provide release from prison, but rather a mechanism for the possibility of release. It gives them hope that one day, they may be paroled.