Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater was right last summer to be angry about the covert manner in which the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had been considering some inmates for early release. All state agencies need to operate as transparently as possible and, given the nature of its work, the parole board especially must do so.
But Prater's demand this week that board members resign by Friday or face misdemeanor charges of violating the state's Open Meetings Act seems extreme. If members had ignored Prater's accusations, this move would be warranted. But they seem to have gotten the message that their previous practices weren't good enough.
Soon after Prater accused the board of acting illegally about 50 times over a three-year period, Chairwoman Lynnell Harkins said there was no intent to deceive but that, “We'll do whatever we need to make it right.” In December, board officials said no inmate would be considered for early parole or commutation, even if eligible for parole, until a new procedure was in place. The board has plans to vote later this year on a new early release policy.
The parole board also is in the process of redesigning its website to make it easier for the public to access and understand the monthly parole hearing dockets, and to provide information about how to attend to sign up or speak at meetings.
The state's district attorneys, riled over Prater's findings last year, want the Legislature this session to change the way inmates are allowed to request commutations. In response to that move, parole board Chairman Marc Dreyer asked lawmakers to give the board a year “to try to prove that we have turned the corner, the ship is upright.”
Prater clearly believes more time isn't the answer, that only an overhaul will do. We'll know by end of business Friday whether this fight will escalate further.