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Hundreds of Oklahoma prisoners could be released Nov. 1

New law expands when certain nonviolent inmates can be put on ankle monitors to complete their sentences. Prosecutors are upset.
BY NOLAN CLAY nclay@opubco.com Published: October 9, 2011
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Oklahoma corrections officials say they are preparing to put as many as 250 to 300 inmates in ankle monitors and release them.

Prosecutors throughout the state are upset.

The inmates, convicted of nonviolent offenses, are set to be released starting Nov. 1. That is when a new law intended to relieve prison overcrowding goes into effect. The law changes when certain nonviolent inmates become eligible for ankle monitors.

“I suspect that many — if not most — of the legislators that voted for this didn't realize it was going to have the result of releasing several hundred inmates on Nov. 1,” said Michael Fields, district attorney for Blaine, Canadian, Garfield, Grant and Kingfisher counties.

“I have a hard time believing that legislators understood that whenever they agreed to vote for this law,” Fields said. “I doubt that would have been their intent because many of those legislators are our allies on public safety issues. I think that this clearly does undermine public safety.”

House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said the goal actually is to increase public safety.

He said the change will put more low-risk, mostly female inmates into the successful electronic monitoring program so corrections officials can focus their limited resources on inmates who are truly threats to society.

Prosecutors are concerned because some nonviolent offenders under the new law will be eligible for ankle monitors after 90 days of incarceration.

Currently, in general, no nonviolent inmate is eligible for an ankle monitor until he gets down to the last 11 months of his sentence. Starting Nov. 1, offenders with sentences of five years or less become eligible once they have served 90 days, if no other restrictions apply.

Public confidence

Prosecutors said Friday public confidence in sentences will be undermined if quick releases start happening.

“Then, I will stop sending people to prison for less than five years,” said Greg Mashburn, district attorney for Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties. “I mean, I'll have no choice. If I intended them to go to prison, I intended them to stay for more than 90 days. I will absolutely adjust what I'm doing on my cases so this isn't happening.”

Mashburn said ankle monitors haven't worked well in his counties. He recalled three instances where offenders on ankle monitors committed crimes.

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