Providing a list of inmates being considered for possible commutation is among several suggestions to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board to shed more light on the process.
Steve Mullins, general counsel for the Parole Board, also is recommending board members evaluate how they determine risk factors in granting commutations or paroles and that they clarify the board's parole and commutation process to the public.
The board should update information on its website to explain early reviews and instances when a commutation might occur, he said in a letter sent to the agency's executive director and the board's chairman.
Board members also should add a statement to the agency's website to remind victims, district attorneys, offenders and offenders' families of their responsibility to send protest or support information to the governor's office if board members recommend a case for approval.
Mullins sent the letter after staff members of the agency and the governor's office met earlier this week to respond to concerns from Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who last week accused board members of violating the state Open Meeting Act because the board's meeting agendas did not list the offenders who were being brought up early for consideration of commutations.
Parole board members don't list the names of offenders proposed for commutation under the agenda item “docket modifications” at their monthly meetings; instead they bring the names up during that point of the meeting.
If three of the five members vote to consider any for commutation, the board schedules a hearing and lists their names as well as notifies prosecutors and victim family members who signed up for notification at least 20 days in advance.
Terry Jenks, executive director of the Parole Board, has said state law gives board members the authority to consider an offender “out of the normal processing procedure” with the concurrence of at least three members. That gives the board the authority to hear offenders on an earlier docket, he said.
Prater also accused the board of considering parole for ineligible inmates. He said the state's “truth in sentencing law” passed by lawmakers requires that at least 85 percent of inmates' sentences be served before parole is possible. He told board members Tuesday they could commute “85 percent offenders,” but it violates the will of the Legislature.
Mullins in his letter to Jenks and Parole Board Chairman Lynnell Harkins said his office “continues to assert” that the state constitution gives board members the authority to recommend commutations of all offenses, including death sentences, life without parole and 85 percent crimes.
“This office also maintains any alleged failure by the Pardon and Parole Board to comply with the Open Meeting Act was inadvertent and not willful,” he wrote.
Mullins said he believes the board's policies and practices can be improved and clarified to the public.
Jenks earlier this week asked the state attorney general's office to issue an opinion on the board's authority to commute the sentences of inmates, including those sentenced for 85 percent crimes.
If the board recommends commutation, which is the governor's ability to shorten or modify prison sentences, it's up to the governor to grant it, according to the state constitution.
Certain felony convictions of violent crimes, including murder and manslaughter, carry the requirement that an offender serve at least 85 percent of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Jenks has said state laws don't prohibit the board from granting commutation to inmates sentenced under the 85 percent law.
Pardon and Parole Board members have said no one who was convicted of an 85 percent crime has been considered for or granted parole before eligibility, but a few 85 percent convicts were considered for commutation.