Oklahoma's district attorneys want new restrictions put into state law that would keep most violent inmates from getting released early from prison except in cases of a clear injustice.
They also want changes to the law to prevent nonviolent inmates from being considered for parole early.
“These proposals are good for public safety. They strengthen public safety,” Oklahoma District Attorney David Prater said.
Prosecutors are upset because the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board repeatedly has considered early releases for inmates, even killers, who were not yet eligible for parole.
Board members said they acted under their commutation authority. They suspended considering such early release requests, though, after Prater complained in August. The board plans to vote on a new early release policy later this year.
Marc Dreyer, the parole board's chairman, said Friday he is asking legislators to leave the board alone for a year so it can prove itself.
“My hope is that the DAs and the Legislature would be willing to give the board a year to try to prove that we have turned the corner, the ship is upright, and that we're doing things with integrity and in the way that best advances public safety,” said Dreyer, a Tulsa minister.
“If they're dissatisfied at the end of the year, if they're dissatisfied with what we've done, then go ahead and do everything they think they need to do to change things around,” Dreyer said.
The legislative changes proposed by prosecutors would revamp how inmates ask for their prison sentences to be commuted.
“We've got to do something,” said Mike Boring, a district attorney for four counties in far northwest Oklahoma. “It's completely out of control.
“There has been a system in place for the commutations. It's been the good old boy system here,” Boring said Thursday. “With a phone call, you can get out any darn time you want if you just know the right person. … It's irritating when we try to do our jobs to protect the people and we've got this board that's running (like) loose cannons over the whole system.”
A commutation is simply a reduction in a convict's prison term such as from 25 years to 15 years. The parole board states on its website that there is no special process to apply for a commutation.
The board forwarded four commutation recommendations to the governor in 2011 and three in 2012, the board's general counsel, Tracy George, said.
Over the last few years, many of the inmates considered for commutations simply wrote parole board members or had an attorney or legislator ask, according to interviews with current and former board members.
No public notice was given the first time the board took up such requests. The governor would get involved — and have the final say — if the board recommended commutation.