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Letters from inmates prompt most early releases, former board member says

A former Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board member who recommended more inmates for early release over the last three years release than any other board member says the process of getting an inmate's name on the list for early consideration isn't as mysterious as it may seem.

by Randy Ellis Modified: August 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm •  Published: August 13, 2012

A former Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board member who recommended more inmates for early release consideration over the past three years than any other board member says the secret to getting an inmate’s name on the list for early consideration isn’t really a secret at all.

“Almost always it would be an inmate letter,” said former Attorney General Susan Loving, who served on the parole board for a stint in the 1990s and throughout Gov. Brad Henry’s administration before leaving the board in early 2011.

Sometimes legislators and attorneys also would make requests, she said.

There were 50 inmates recommended for early release consideration by board members from 2010 through June 2012, and Loving recommended 15 of them.

That was more than double the number recommended by any other board member during that time.

Other current and former board members who recommended inmates for early consideration during that time and the numbers of inmates they recommended included Richard Dugger, 7; James Brown, 7; Currie Ballard, 5; Marc Dreyer, 5; Lynnell Harkins, 5; Clinton Johnson, 3; David Moore, 2; and undetermined, 1.

“I probably got 80 to 100 letters a month from people asking to be put on an early docket,” Loving said. “I read every single one of those letters.”

Loving said many of the letters were easy rejections, but occasionally she would see letters from inmates she thought deserved a closer look.

In those cases, she said she would ask the staff to prepare a report that would detail the crimes and the inmate’s actions in prison.

Sometimes, those reports would lead to early release recommendations.

DA questions practice

Controversy over the early release consideration list erupted this past week when Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater wrote a scathing letter to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board accusing it of violating the state Open Meeting Act by placing inmates on the early consideration list without proper public notice.

Board members acted to put inmates on the list under an agenda item labeled “docket modification,” which provided the public with “no notice” of what they were planning to do, Prater said.

Prater also objected to the board placing on the early release consideration list inmates who had committed major crimes and had not met a legal requirement that they serve 85 percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole.

Some officials have since argued that such inmates can be released early under commutation statutes, even though they can’t be paroled. Prater disputes that interpretation.

The parole board has said it will request an attorney general’s opinion on that issue.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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