AG opinion addresses early release issue
BY World's Editorials Writers
Saturday, October 13, 2012
10/13/12 at 4:01 AM
The Legislature may not have meant to do what it did years ago. A law requiring certain violent offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentence before being considered for release apparently allows the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole board to recommend commutations for such inmates even though those offenders haven't yet served 85 percent of their sentence.
Or perhaps the Legislature wrote the law exactly as it intended.
At any rate, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt released an opinion Thursday that the board does indeed have commutation authority in such cases. The governor also has the power to commute the sentences.
The board had requested the opinion after Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater questioned whether board members acted illegally by placing inmates on a docket for early release while proceeding under a vague agenda item that did not fully inform the public.
Prater claimed that the board had recommended early release for several inmates serving sentences that fell under the 85-percent requirement.
DAs take seriously their commitment to victims that violent criminals will serve out their sentences. Prater is continuing an investigation to determine how many 85-percenters the board might have recommended for early release in the past three years. The board's director claims only five inmates with 85-percent sentences have been recommended for commutations in the past 12 years.
Meanwhile, an AG investigation into parole board actions and whether the board violated the Open Meetings Act continues. Pruitt's opinion dealt only with the narrower question of whether the board had the authority to recommend commutations of the 85-percent sentences.
Ideally, these investigations into parole board actions need to wrap up sooner rather than later. The parole board performs an important function and the public must have confidence that the board is doing its job transparently and according to the letter of the law.
Original Print Headline: Commutations
A prison guard uses binoculars to check out activity at the state penitentiary in McAlester. Tulsa World file