Oklahoma parole board to revise policy at special meeting
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Sunday, January 06, 2013
1/06/13 at 6:15 AM
A month of seeking public input on proposed changes to Oklahoma's parole procedures netted relatively few comments, Pardon and Parole Board officials said.
In November, voters approved State Question 762, altering the constitution to remove the governor from the parole process for nonviolent crimes. Gov. Mary Fallin still retains final say in the paroles of those convicted of 63 types of violent crimes, as specified by the state legislature.
Because the change became law before the Pardon and Parole Board revised its policy, members moved several parole hearing cases from December to January's meeting and have worked quickly to get a new policy in place, executive director Terry Jenks said.
Pardon and Parole Board will have a special meeting at 10 a.m. Jan. 14 at Hillside Correctional Center in Oklahoma City to review the comments and revise the policy. They plan to vote and put a policy in place before parole hearings begin at the Jan. 22 meeting.
The board had invited the public to review proposed policy changes and submit comments through this week but had received "not quite a dozen" as of Friday afternoon, Jenks said.
The District Attorneys Council and at least one individual district attorney weighed in, he said.
"We might get a few at the last minute," Jenks said. The board also received several phone calls on the issue but had requested comments in writing so they would be public records.
The effort to remove the governor from nonviolent paroles was initially supported by Fallin, before she reversed course and opposed it. The measure also faced intense pushback from law enforcement and district attorneys in Oklahoma, saying it would give the board too much power and not enough accountability.
Until voters passed SQ 762, Oklahoma had remained the only state where all paroles required not only a recommendation from the board but also approval by the governor.
"I continue to believe it was an excellent decision on the part of the voters," board chairman Marc Dreyer said.
"It's also helpful in particular for the governor's workload."
Seeking public commentary on the revisions and making sure the process abided by the law and spirit of Oklahoma's Open Records and Open Meetings acts is part of an overall effort in recent months by the board to increase transparency for the public.
Those efforts occurred after an uproar this past August by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who publicly accused the board of conducting parole hearings without proper advance public notice or clearly labeled agendas.
As a result, the Pardon and Parole Board continues to suspend the practice of early parole consideration for any inmates and plans to have a redesigned website available to the public by Feb. 1.
"That's something we've needed to do for a while," Jenks said.
The redesigned site should make it easier for the public to search and understand the monthly parole hearing dockets and how to attend or sign up to speak at a meeting, he said.
Original Print Headline: Parole board to revise its policy
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477