Can an Oklahoma man get clemency after 20 years in prison for possession of an ounce of cocaine? We’ll find out this week.
In Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin’s 2015 Inaugural Address, she promised to pursue “smart on crime” solutions to over-incarceration, saying that non-violent drug offenders “don’t need to spend long stints at the state penitentiary,” and that they “need to be returned to their communities as sober adults ready to support themselves and their families”.
This coming Wednesday, February 10th, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board will have the perfect opportunity to help the governor keep her promise in a commutation hearing for Larry Yarbrough, Sr.
Larry Yarbrough is a husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather. He was a successful businessman whose family has owned land near Kingfisher since the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889.
And he has spent over 20 years serving a Life Without Parole sentence for possession of a single ounce of cocaine.
His 1997 trial was marred by charges of jury tampering, destruction of evidence, blatant racism, and good-old-boy nepotism. Even those on the jury have spoken out on his behalf.
But his supporters say that regardless of the question of guilt or innocence, Larry has paid his debt to society, and deserves to be free.
According to former Oklahoma Senator Connie Johnson, “Larry is the poster child for a rehabilitated man who never allowed the wrongness to get to him. He has received commendations from the Department of Corrections for training seeing-eye dogs for the blind, mentored younger inmates, and has never had a write-up in over 20 years of incarceration.”
In a 2011 Alternet article entitled “How 3 Joints and an Ounce of Coke Got an Oklahoma Grandfather Life Without Parole”, Anthony Papas said: “These are tough times for state governments as well as most Americans. For these reasons, continuing to incarcerate Larry Yarbrough is very poor stewardship of our state’s limited resources.”
Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration in the nation, according to 2013 statistics published by the Department of Justice, and one of the highest numbers of nonviolent prisoners serving Life Without Parole sentences. In a 2013 study, the ACLU said that it cost taxpayers $1.784 billion to keep the 3,278 currently serving LWOP for non-violent offenses incarcerated for the rest of their lives.
Over 20 years of incarceration and Larry’s deteriorating health have cost the taxpayers of Oklahoma substantial amounts of money even as the state struggles with a nearly one billion dollar budget shortfall.
Releasing Larry Yarbrough to live out the remainder of his life with his family is simply the right thing to do, morally, ethically, and fiscally. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board and Governor Mary Fallin can send a clear message that they are serious about justice reform, reducing incarceration rates, and saving taxpayer money in Oklahoma.