As a teenager, Tondalao Hall survived a violent relationship - one that ended only after she was arrested and imprisoned for not reporting her boyfriend's abuse of their children. Now, after 15 years behind bars, she is free.

Hall's sentence, issued under Oklahoma's controversial "failure to protect" laws, was far harsher than the one given to her boyfriend, Robert Braxton Jr, who abused Hall and her children. He served two years in jail. The disparity has been seen as an example of the criminal justice system's bungling of intimate partner violence cases.

Hall's story has also highlighted the state's nation-leading incarceration numbers - particularly for women, who are imprisoned there at a rate twice the national average.

"It's a perfect example of the misunderstanding of domestic violence within Oklahoma's criminal justice system," said Megan Lambert, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Hall. "It shows how quick Oklahoma is to incarcerate rather than to understand and support and heal."

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But on Friday, a week after Oklahoma issued the largest single-day commutation in US history, Hall was allowed to go home, too.

"My heart was full," said Wazell Hall, Tondalao's 74-year-old father who spoke to reporters shortly after his daughter was released. "Couldn't speak, cried tears of joy. I feel great, God has blessed me. One thing I asked him to do is to let me see her out of prison before I leave this world, and that we might have joy and peace and comfort."

Her release came a month after Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously to recommend her 30-year sentence for commutation. The state's Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt granted the request on Thursday, ending a decade and a half of incarceration.

The case stems from a 2004 visit to the hospital. Hall was 20 years old at the time, and Braxton abused her regularly: choking her, punching her and berating her with verbal attacks, according to court testimony. She was suspicious that he was violent with her children - their two kids and her son from a previous relationship - but Braxton denied it.

She never witnessed the abuse, according to court records, but she took her 20-month-old son to the doctor when his leg swelled. He had a fractured femur and 12 fractured ribs; her newborn daughter also had a fractured femur, seven fractured ribs and a fractured toe.

Soon after, Hall and Braxton were arrested and charged. In 2006, Hall was sentenced to 30 years after pleading guilty to failing to protect the two children from abuse. Braxton pleaded guilty to the abuse itself and was released on probation after spending two years in jail while the case was adjudicated.

Lambert said there are dozens of women locked up under the failure to protect law who have stories "frighteningly similar" to Hall's - victims of abuse who are punished rather than helped.


This article was first published in the Washington Post.

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