No violations occurred, state Pardon and Parole Board officials say
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, August 16, 2012
8/16/12 at 7:30 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - Pardon and Parole Board officials vowed to improve transparency and communication Wednesday, but they steadfastly denied having violated the state Open Meeting Act.
The action comes in the wake of stinging allegations leveled at the board by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
Prater accused the board of violating the Open Meeting Act because the board's meeting agenda did not list the offenders who were being brought up early for consideration of paroles or commutations.
He also accused the board of illegally recommending early release for offenders who are required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.
Prater said Tuesday that the board could commute such "85 percent offenders" but that doing so would violate the will of the people and the Legislature. He initially had said the practice was illegal.
An attorney general's opinion on the matter has been requested by the Pardon and Parole Board.
Board Vice Chairman Marc Dreyer of Tulsa said the board has "been doing docket modifications since 1989, and this is the first time since 1989 there has been an issue raised about the docket-modification process."
"It is not like there has been a firestorm going on for years about this, nor is it something we just started last month," Dreyer said.
Board members say they cannot recommend parole for an offender who is subject to the 85 percent rule and have not done so. However, the Oklahoma Constitution gives them the power to commute or recommend shortening the sentence of an offender who is subject to the 85 percent rule, they say.
Any such recommendation is subject to the approval of the governor.
At issue is the process the board uses.
Pardon and Parole Board members can request a predocket investigation on an offender. The request is not placed on a meeting agenda.
After the report is issued, a board member can move in an open meeting to modify the docket to bring up the offender for early consideration at a later meeting. Notice of such action on a specific offender is not given in advance on the agenda. It is listed as a docket modification.
At least three of the five board members must agree before a docket - a list of offenders who will be considered for parole or commutation - can be modified.
In the wake of the controversy, the board is considering posting the relevant inmates' names on the docket modification section of a meeting agenda.
The fate of the offender is voted on by the board at a later hearing, before which public notice of the proposed action has been given. People who are aware of the potential action can attend that later meeting to protest or support the action.
The Open Meeting Act ensures that the public is given adequate notice of what action a board may consider.
Prater criticized the board's process. He said that if the board is going to consider a commutation, the action should be clearly labeled as such.
"Now that this has been brought to our attention, clearly there was no intention to violate, and we don't believe we violated any law or statute," said Tracy George, Pardon and Parole Board general counsel. "We believe we have always been open and transparent, because the board is clearly consistently concerned with public safety."
Now that Prater has voiced his concerns, the agency is more than willing to make changes to ensure that there is no confusion, George said.
Terry Jenks, the board's executive director, said those who serve on the board are of the highest integrity and take the job very seriously.
He said he is concerned that the controversy could hurt the board members' reputations.
Meanwhile, Prater said he is conducting a criminal investigation into alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act and declined to comment further.
Dreyer said he believes that "we have nothing to hide."
Original Print Headline: Pardon and Parole Board: No violations
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
Marc Dreyer: "It is not like there has been a firestorm going on for years about this," the board vice-chairman said