Oklahoma AG investigates Pardon and Parole Board practices
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Friday, August 10, 2012
Attorney General Scott Pruitt has opened his own investigation into allegations that Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board members regularly violated the state’s Open Meeting Act and statutes requiring inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
“We’re investigating the process and procedures. It’s the right thing to do,” Pruitt said. “We’re going to make sure that there has been compliance with the Open Meeting Act to ensure that as decisions were made, citizens were informed.”
The allegations came from a scathing nine-page letter released this week by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who accuses board members of deceptive practices when placing inmates on a “Pre-Docket Investigation” list for early consideration.
Prater alleges that the board has repeatedly considered parole for inmates who are ineligible because of state “truth in sentencing” laws requiring that at least 85 percent of their sentences be served before parole is possible.
Pardon and Parole Board members maintain that no one who was convicted of an “85 percent crime” has been considered for or granted parole before eligibility and that only a handful of the “85 percent” convicts were considered for commutation — sentence modification that is a separate power under Oklahoma’s constitution.
“Clearly, we understand that you cannot be considered early for parole in an 85 percent crime, but you can be considered for commutation,” said Terry Jenks, executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board.
Gov. Mary Fallin and the board plans to ask for an official opinion from the attorney general regarding whether 85 percent laws apply to commutations.
Meanwhile, Pruitt said his office had concerns regarding the parole docketing process even before Prater’s letter was sent this week.
A law was proposed last year that would have required the Attorney General’s Office to be notified in any case in which an 85 percent convict was coming before the parole board, but it did not pass, Pruitt said.
“We felt like the victims affected and their voices need to be heard,” he said. “It’s evidence of the fact that we need more transparency and light shed on the process.”
Prater alleges that the board regularly votes on considering inmates for early parole under monthly agenda items listed as “docket modifications,” language that “means absolutely nothing to the average citizen” and violates the state’s Open Meeting Act.
“The ‘Docket Modification’ agenda item gives NO notice to the public of what business the board will be conducting under this item,” he wrote.
Board members issued a statement Wednesday saying they were reviewing Prater’s concerns carefully and that “transparency and openness are essential when dealing with the clemency process to ensure every interested party is dealt with fairly. … All board meetings are conducted according to the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act in an open, public forum and the required notice(s) are posted with the Oklahoma Secretary of State.”
In the interim, the governor asked the board to place a moratorium on docket modifications, a request to which the board agreed.
Pruitt said his investigation will occur “with deliberate speed” to make sure that “there really was transparency and awareness for the citizens.”
“If it yields information that we can act on, we will,” he said.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater