Oklahoma prosecutors, Fallin line up against SQ 762
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
10/30/12 at 9:52 AM
Find all the Tulsa World’s coverage of the 2012 local, state and national elections.
A state question designed to take the governor largely out of the parole process - and potentially save the state millions - is drawing heat from prosecutors.
And Gov. Mary Fallin, who first endorsed the idea and attempted to sign it into law, is now opposing State Question 762.
The proposal would allow the state parole board to grant clemency directly to inmates serving sentences for nonviolent crimes. Currently, the board only makes parole recommendations to the governor, who makes the final decision.
SQ 762 is part of a package of prison reform efforts championed by outgoing Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee.
The package is designed to reduce the state's cost of incarcerating inmates, especially nonviolent ones, and reinvest that money in more effective public safety efforts.
In a recent presentation to the Tulsa Metro Chamber, Steele appealed for support of the proposal as a way to serve the public and save the state money.
Oklahoma is the only state where the governor has to sign every parole, Steele said.
In recent years, there has been a delay of 100 days to six months between the time the parole board recommends parole and the governor approves the release, he said.
That's time the state is paying needlessly to house and feed prisoners who are headed to release anyway, he said.
By eliminating the delay between parole board recommendation and gubernatorial approval for paroles, the state would save $3.3 million a year, according to a legislative analysis of the proposal.
By reducing the state's expenses for nonviolent offenders, it will have more resources for dealing with violent prisoners and money left over for public safety, he said.
The resolution proposing the referendum passed the Legislature with eight House members and one senator voting against it on final passage.
But the idea fell into trouble this summer when Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater accused the parole board of violating the state Open Meetings Act by not providing proper notification on agendas regarding what action it was undertaking. He also accused the board of acting outside of its powers regarding clemency consideration for inmates required to serve 85 percent of their sentences.
Prater's Open Meetings accusation is still under investigation, but the Attorney General's Office has backed up the board's authority to grant clemency to the inmates in Prater's second challenge.
Prater's conflicts with the board presaged Oklahoma District Attorneys Association's opposition to the measure in September.
Fallin announced her opposition earlier this month, saying she supports the proposal's concepts but worries that prisoners with past violent offenses would be classified as nonviolent.
Fallin has rejected parole recommendations for 437 offenders who would have been released under the proposal.
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said the state may eventually remove the governor from the parole process for inmates serving sentences for nonviolent crimes, but the issues raised by Prater make this a poor time for the change.
"Timing is everything," Harris said. "I think there could be lot more uncovered about what we don't know about how the parole board works. ... I don't think the time is right for the passage of this state question."
Harris pointed out that parole board members are appointees - three appointed by the governor and two appointed by appellate courts - and aren't answerable to the public through elections.
"By having the governor in the parole process, you have an elected officer who is beholden to the people for the decision that they make," Harris said. "The checks and balances between the governor and the parole board are a balance, I think."
Harris pointed out that drunken drivers, many drug dealers and white-collar criminals would be considered nonviolent.
State Question 762
This measure amends Section 10 of Article 6 of the Oklahoma Constitution. It changes current law, decreasing the power and authority of the Governor by removing the Governor from the parole process for persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses. It enlarges the power and authority of the Pardon and Parole Board by authorizing that Board, in place of the Governor, to grant parole to persons convicted of certain offenses defined as nonviolent offenses.
The Legislature defines what offenses are nonviolent offenses and the Legislature may change that definition.
The measure authorizes the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend to the Governor, but not to itself grant, parole for persons convicted of certain offenses, specifically those offenses identified by law as crimes for which persons are required to serve not less than eighty-five percent of their sentence prior to being considered for parole and those designated by the Legislature as exceptions to nonviolent offenses. For those offenses for which persons are required to serve a minimum mandatory period of confinement prior to being eligible to be considered for parole, the Pardon and Parole Board may not recommend parole until that period of confinement has been served.
SHALL THE PROPOSAL BE APPROVED?
Which paroles would still require approval of the governor under State Question 762?
Legislation proposing SQ 762 requires the approval of the governor on paroles for criminals serving sentences for violent crimes. Violent crimes are defined in two statutes as 63 different offenses, including:
First-degree murder, second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, poisoning with intent to kill, shooting with intent to kill, assault with intent to kill, robbery with a dangerous weapon, first-degree robbery, second-degree robbery, armed robbery, first-degree rape, second-degree rape, rape by instrumentation, first-degree arson, first-degree burglary, bombing, forcible sodomy, child pornography, child prostitution, lewd molestation, abuse of a vulnerable adult, aggravated drug trafficking, aggravated assault and battery, kidnapping for extortion, maiming, rioting, inciting to riot, sabotage, extortion and using a vehicle to facilitate the discharge of a weapon.
Convictions for attempts, conspiracies or solicitations of many of those are also included in the violent crime list and would still continue gubernatorial consideration.
Original Print Headline: Prosecutors, governor line up against SQ 762
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Gov. Mary Fallin: She has rejected parole recommendations for 437 offenders who would have been released under the proposal.