- Oklahoma released more than 460 inmates convicted of simple drug crimes or nonviolent property crimes under $1,000 on Monday.
- In total, the state commuted the sentences of 524 prisoners, though some were not released on Monday because they had detainers.
- The move is the largest mass commutation in U.S. history and is seen as a major step in prison reform for the state with the highest incarceration rate.
More Than 500 Sentences Commuted
After the state of Oklahoma commuted the sentences of more than 500 inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes, most of those inmates were released from prison on Monday.
The move follows Friday’s unanimous vote by the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to commute the sentences of 527 prisoners. Republican Governor Kevin Stitt then announced he had approved 524 of the requests on Twitter and hailed the move as a “historic step towards criminal justice reform.”
Of those inmates, about 460 were released on Monday, with the others having detainers against them. Nonetheless, the release is the largest mass commutation in U.S. history.
Video from the Kate Barnard Community Correctional Center shows one inmate being released after a three-year incarceration and dropping her box of belongings as she embraces her daughter.
Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation. Prior to the commutation, Oklahoma prisons housed a population of more than 26,000. According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, more than 1 in 100 adults in Oklahoma are in prison at any given time.
The Pardon and Parole Board said the mass commutation is expected to save the state almost $12 million dollars by abbreviating the sentences of those inmates.
Prison Reform Gains Support Among Voters
Prison reform in Oklahoma gained traction in 2016 when voters approved a ballot measure known as Question 780, which reclassified certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, including simple drug crimes and nonviolent property crimes under $1,000.
At the same time, voters approved a co-measure, Question 781, which then allowed any savings earned from bypassing incarceration to go directly to counties for drug treatment and rehab services.
Both laws then went into effect in 2017, but they did not apply to people convicted of committing similar crimes before they went into effect, meaning those prisoners would still be considered felons on their record and they would still have to serve their sentence.
Retroactive Law Passes
In January this year, lawmakers proposed allowing Question 780 to apply retroactively, and in May, the proposal became law after finding bipartisan support.
According to Stitt, in addition to commuting the sentences of hundreds of inmates, the retroactive would also reduce the sentences of another 1,400 people serving time for different crimes.
The law went into effect on Friday, and 814 prisoners then appealed to have their sentences commuted in a special one-stage appeal process. In all, 287 inmates were denied, with the board saying it denied certain appeals if an inmate had offenses like a record of serious misconduct or a registered victim. It also denied appeals to sex offenders and violent offenders.
Under the new law, Stitt said he expects the state to commute about 2,000 people by the end of the year.
Prisoners’ Reentry into Society
Because this massive commutation was anticipated once the retroactive law took effect, the state’s Department of Corrections also saw another first when it held what it called “re-entry fairs” at 28 different prisons.
Those fairs were aimed as a way to connect inmates to housing and counseling support prior to their release. Prisoners were also able to get state ID’s or even licenses before being released, which is expected to be a massive help to them as such actions can be difficult after leaving prison.
“With this vote, we are fulfilling the will of Oklahomans,” Steve Bickley, executive director of the board, said on 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.”
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NBC News) (OKC Fox)
Tik Tok “Skull Breaker” Challenge Leading to Severe Injuries
- Tik Tok has seen a new viral challenge that involves a person getting tricked into jumping into the air while two others kick their legs out from under them, causing them to fall onto the ground.
- Multiple young people have suffered injuries as a result of the challenge, and it has been reported that one Brazilian teenager died.
- Concerned parents are striving to raise awareness of the dangers of the trend, and one student even started a non-profit organization to combat pranking and bullying after falling victim to the challenge herself.
Dangerous Online Trend
A new trend is making its rounds on the popular app Tik Tok— one that has led to serious injuries and received backlash from concerned parents.
The “skull breaker” challenge involves three people standing in a line, shoulder to shoulder, under the pretense that all of them will jump into the air at the same time. But instead, only the middle person jumps while the two people flanking them kick their legs out from under them, causing them to slam into the ground. In most cases it appears that the middle person is tricked into the challenge, unaware that they will be knocked over.
The danger of the “skull breaker” challenge can be found in its name, as it quite literally has the potential to crack people’s heads open. Doctors are warning that it can result in broken bones, concussions, and brain bleeding, among other injuries.
Tik Tok has expressed their disapproval of the challenge. The app told ABC News that the safety of their users is a top priority and they “do not allow content that encourages or replicates dangerous challenges that might lead to injury.”
This new online fad is the latest dangerous trend among young people, akin to the Tide Pod challenge and the viral Tik Tok “outlet challenge” that prompted warnings from fire officials. A Brazilian teenager reportedly died from the “skull breaker” challenge, and more youth around the world have been seriously hurt.
The recent virtual trend raised eyebrows in Daytona Beach, Florida in January, when two students convinced an unsuspecting third female student to perform the challenge for Tik Tok content.
According to the Daytona Beach News Journal, the video has since been deleted. The News Journal reported that the victim’s parents were originally going to let the school handle it but ultimately decided to press charges. The Daytona Beach Police Department told TODAY that two students are facing misdemeanor charges of battery and cyberbullying as a result of the prank.
On Feb. 8, an Arizona woman posted images of her injured son to Facebook, reporting a head injury as well as stitches and cuts to his face that stemmed from the skull breaker challenge.
“My son was asked to do a jumping contest with his 2 ‘friends,’ when he jumped up, the 2 boys kicked him, as hard as they could, so his legs flew out in front of him,” Valerie Hodson wrote. “He landed hard flat on his back and head, as he struggled to get up he lost consciousness, he fell forward landing on his face.”
“I really contemplated posting this, but I feel there needs to be awareness of this malicious cruel viral prank,” Hodson said.
Hodson’s son is not the only child to be hospitalized due to the skull breaker challenge. Teri Smith, a woman located in Alabama, also took to Facebook to discuss her son’s broken bones after falling victim to the prank.
“Prayers needed… Parker was unknowingly tiktok pranked which caused him to fall,” Smith wrote.
Similar pushes for awareness have been seen as impacts of the challenge have been felt by others around the country. In Portland, Oregon, 14-year-old Olivia Ross said she hit her head hard on the ground after she was tricked into the challenge by two seniors at her high school.
“They just told me we were going to jump for a video. Of course I was excited since they were upperclassmen and they were asking me to be in their video,” Ross told KOIN 6. “But I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Ross and her mother, Lindsay Zobrist, decided the best course of action was to spread awareness of these types of viral pranks because they expect that many kids don’t know how dangerous they can be. They created a non-profit organization called Teaching Kindness Matters and are working to get school districts to include “pranking” in their definition of bullying.
Trump Slams Oscars for Awarding South Korean Film Best Picture
- At a Colorado rally on Feb. 20, President Donald Trump bashed the Oscars for giving this year’s Best Picture award to “Parasite,” a South Korean film.
- He instead called for movies like “Gone With the Wind” to return, a production that has been criticized for romanticizing slavery.
- Additionally, Trump called Brad Pitt a “little wise guy” for making a joke about the president’s impeachment trial during his Oscars acceptance speech.
- In response to his remarks, the U.S. distributor of “Parasite,” dissed the president for not being able to read the film’s subtitles.
- Others also gave Trump backlash for not liking the film because it revolves around a struggling Asian working-class family.
At a rally in Colorado on Thursday, President Donald Trump took a dig at the 2020 Oscars for awarding Best Picture to the South Korean film “Parasite.”
“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year?” Trump asked the crowd in Colorado Springs, who responded with boos.
“And the winner is a movie from South Korea, what the hell was that all about?” Trump asked. “We got enough problems with South Korea with trade. On top of it, they give them the best movie of the year.”
Despite his criticisms, Trump went on to imply that he didn’t even watch the film.
“Was it good? I don’t know,” he said.
“Parasite” made history earlier this month when it became the first film in a non-English language to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. On top of that, the movie took home awards for Best Original Screenplay, Best International Language Film, and Best Director—Bong Joon Ho.
These accomplishments didn’t seem to impress the president. Instead, he called for movies like “Gone With the Wind” and “Sunset Boulevard” to return. Both films feature white stars and were directed by white men.
Released in 1939, “Gone With the Wind” centers around a plantation-owning family in 1861. Accounting for inflation, it still holds the record for the highest-grossing film in U.S. history. But in recent years, the film has largely gone from a revered American classic to a piece of work examined and criticized for its romanticism of slavery.
Also at Thursday’s rally, Trump slammed Brad Pitt, who made a joke about the president’s impeachment trial during his Oscars acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor.
“They told me I only have 45 seconds up here, which is 45 seconds more than the Senate gave John Bolton this week,” Pitt said at the awards show on Feb. 9.
The “Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood” star was referring to the former national security advisor who had not been allowed to testify in the impeachment trial.
“And then you have Brad Pitt. I was never a big fan of his. He got up, said a little wise guy statement. Little wise guy. He’s a little wise guy,” Trump said on Thursday.
Clap Backs Against POTUS
The president’s critiques of the Academy Awards did not go unnoticed. Though “Parasite” is in Korean, it’s accompanied by English subtitles. Neon, the film’s U.S. distributor, responded to Trump’s remarks in a biting tweet.
“Understandable, he can’t read,” the company said in their reactions to Trump’s dislike of the movie.
Neon added the hashtag #Bong2020 in reference to the film’s director.
The Democratic National Committee also weighed in, adding their own diss to the president.
“Parasite is a foreign movie about how oblivious the ultra-rich are about the struggles of the working class, and it requires two hours of reading subtitles. Of course Trump hates it.”
Other Twitter users chimed in with similar messages condemning the president.
“Anyway parasite is still the best movie of the year Trump’s racist ass can cry about it,” one person said.
See what others are saying: (NBC) (Washington Post) (The Hill)
UCLA Drops Controversial Facial Recognition Plan
- After backlash from students and activist groups, UCLA is dropping its plans to use facial recognition on campus.
- Critics said the software often fails when recognizing women and people of color, and could lead to racial profiling.
- UCLA released a statement, just over a week before a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses is set to be held, saying that the school longer thinks the technology would be effective at the school.
- The use of facial recognition software on college campuses and on a national level has long been a subject of debate. Several cities have already banned it, and last week, two Senators proposed legislation banning it on a federal level unless Congressional guidelines are enacted.
UCLA Stops Plans to Use Facial Recognition
After backlash from students and activists, the University of California, Los Angeles has dropped its plans to use facial recognition technology on its campus.
UCLA announced plans to potentially use it in its security systems. Students were concerned that this technology could interfere with students’ privacy and lead to racial profiling on campus.
“We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community,” Michael Beck, the Administrative Vice-Chancellor of the school said in a statement to Fight for the Future, a group advocating for freedom in the digital age.
Fight for the Future is holding a National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses on March 2. The group had been very vocal when encouraging UCLA not to adopt facial recognition. They did a test on how effective it would be at the school and found racial biases in its algorithm.
Inaccuracies in Facial Recognition
Fight for the Future used Rekognition, a software made available by Amazon, and scanned publicly available photos of UCLA athletes and faculty and compared them to a mugshot database. They scanned 400 faces in total and said that 58 were falsely matched.
“The vast majority of incorrect matches were of people of color,” Fight for the Future said of their findings. “In many cases, the software matched two individuals who had almost nothing in common beyond their race, and claimed they were the same person with ‘100% confidence.’”
They are not the only group to find this. According to a study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in terms of one-to-one matching, there are higher rates of false positives for Asian and African American faces in comparison to white faces. They specifically noticed increased false positives when it came to African American females.
Students at UCLA expressed their concerns about this. An editorial in the school’s paper, the Daily Bruin, warned against using facial recognition because of the potential inaccuracies and profiling of people of color.
“For students belonging to these groups, facial recognition technology would simply reinforce the biases that are already stacked against them,” the piece said. The editorial listed privacy as a concern as well.
“Facial recognition technology would present a major breach of students’ privacy and make students feel unsafe on a campus they are supposed to call home,” the Daily Bruin editorial staff wrote. “It is one thing to monitor campus activity with security cameras, but it’s another entirely to automatically identify individuals and track their every move on campus.”
Students and advocacy groups like Fight for the Future were pleased with UCLA’s ultimate decision to not use facial recognition.
“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose,” Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, Evan Greer, said in a statement.
Facial Recognition on a National Scale
UCLA is not the only college in the United States having a conversation about facial recognition. Fight for the Future has been keeping a scorecard of schools that have stated their intentions on using facial recognition. While big schools like Harvard, MIT, Michigan State, and NYU have said they do not intend on using it, other major colleges like Ohio State, Princeton, and the University of Georgia have stated that they might.
Outside of colleges, other localities have already been working on fighting against facial recognition technology. In 2019, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban facial recognition technology. Somerville, MA, Oakland, CA and Berkeley, CA did the same months later.
Still, this kind of technology is still used on a wide scale. According to Vox, in states like Texas, Florida, and Illinois, the FBI uses it to scan through DMV databases. In many U.S. airports, Customs and Border Protection uses it for screening passengers on international flights.
Recently Proposed Legislation
The national use of this could be subject to change, though. In February, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-)R) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) proposed legislation that would ban federal use of facial recognition until proper regulations and rules had been established by Congress for it.
“Facial recognition is a technology that is increasingly being used and marketed to law enforcement agencies across the United States without appropriate debate or consideration of its impacts,” the bill said before describing that this technology has been used at protests, rallies, and other events where one’s’ freedom of speech is on display.
“It is critical that facial recognition not be used to suppress First Amendment related activities, violate privacy, or otherwise adversely impact individuals’ civil rights and civil liberties,” the legislation continued.
This legislation would still allow law enforcement to use it if given a court order.