Oklahoma voters made it clear in November that they believe the state Pardon and Parole Board can do its job without the governor serving as a backstop on every, single case. At least one Oklahoma prosecutor thinks the voters were duped.
Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn says he doesn't think voters understood what sorts of inmates could be paroled under State Question 762, which removed the governor from the parole process for nonviolent inmates. Mashburn wants the Legislature to look for ways to limit SQ 762's impact by, for example, expanding the list of violent crimes.
As the Tulsa World reported, 63 crimes are on the books that are classified as violent, and thus require the governor's approval in parole cases. How many more would make Mashburn and his fellow prosecutors comfortable?
He said he doesn't think voters realized what kind of offenders would qualify as nonviolent. But our sense is the voters had a pretty good idea of what they were voting for, because this issue was well publicized ahead of the election. Voters understood that no other state makes its governor sign off on every parole recommendation, and that somehow those states have figured out a way to make their systems work. Oklahoma can, too.
Mashburn argued that under SQ 762, “the parole board gets to let them straight out without any checks and balances.” That's another way of saying he doesn't trust the five-member board or its staff, who do a tremendous amount of work each month. Case files include every offense committed by the potential parolee, providing board members a thorough look at the inmate's history. And those files are just one piece of the process.
The Oklahoma District Attorneys Council opposed passage of 762. Having lost that fight — voters gave it 59 percent approval — the strategy has turned to damage control before any damage has been done. The Legislature should reject these efforts.