Oklahomans may get to decide later this year whether to remove the governor from most parole cases. It's about time.
It was nearly five years ago that auditors conducted a study of our corrections system and recommended that one way to save money and alleviate prison crowding was to stop requiring that the governor sign off on every parole. That small change could save $40 million over 10 years, the auditors said.
Oklahoma is the only state that has its governor approve every parole. That requirement was written into the state constitution; changing it requires a vote of the people. Last year, the state Senate approved a bill that would send the question to voters. This week the House gave its approval by a wide margin, although the bill needed some language tweaked and will have to be approved again.
So perhaps in November, voters will be asked whether to let the state Pardon and Parole Board decide parole requests for nonviolent offenses. The governor would continue to be required to sign off on violent crimes.
Lawmakers tried to take a step in this direction last year, with a bill that said if the governor failed to act on a parole recommendation within 30 days, the parole would be granted. The attorney general later said that wasn't the best route and suggested a constitutional amendment would be needed.
For her part, Gov. Mary Fallin has said she would support a change in the current statute. She estimates she spends six hours a week on pardon and parole cases, which she reviews personally.
House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, who has pushed criminal justice reform, is correct in saying the current requirement is costly and burdensome. As for his guess that voters “will be happy to change” the current model, we share his optimism and look forward to the question finding its way to the ballot later this year.