Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board accused of secretly expediting release of ineligible inmates
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has been operating a secret parole docket and expediting the release of some inmates — including inmates ineligible for early release because they have not fulfilled mandatory sentencing guidelines, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Wednesday.
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The list of inmates placed on the secret docket by parole board members includes murderers and child molesters, as well as inmates convicted of lesser crimes, records reveal.
Prater said he believes the Pardon and Parole Board's actions violate Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act, and he is considering filing charges against board members.
The parole board issued a prepared response Wednesday, saying “all board meetings are conducted according to the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act in an open, public forum” with required notices posted.
“While the board believes it has both statutory and Constitutional authority to bring offenders up for early consideration, to ensure the board process remains open and transparent, the chairperson will place a moratorium on the early consideration process,” the board stated. “In addition, the agency will request an attorney general's opinion regarding the 85 percent law and the authority to place offenders on a docket for early consideration.”
The 85 percent law requires inmates convicted of certain offenses to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being considered for release.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Wednesday he has been informed of Prater's allegations.
“These allegations are of great concern because 85 percent crimes are some of the most heinous crimes committed against Oklahomans,” Pruitt said. “The Legislature established a clear requirement so that victims and their families can be assured that an offender will serve no less than 85 percent of their sentence.
“Any practice, policy or action taken by any board or commission to mitigate or change the time served is wrong and inconsistent with statute,” he said. “I will do everything in my power as attorney general to ensure that victims have confidence in our legal system and that justice is carried out to the fullest extent.”
Prater called for action to return some inmates into state custody.
“The effect of the board's illegal actions requires the executive branch to take immediate steps to remediate the damage caused by the board,” Prater wrote in a letter this morning to Terry Jenks, executive director of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. “Immediate steps should be taken to reverse the decisions made subsequent to the board's invalid actions. Obviously, this will include taking inmates who have been released back into custody.”
Prater released a list of 50 inmates who he said have been given illegal preferential parole treatment by the board since 2010.
Some, but not all, of those inmates have been released, Prater said.
At least five of the inmates granted early release consideration were sentenced under Oklahoma laws that require them to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being considered for early parole and they had not yet met that requirement, Prater said.
“It appears many other inmates ‘passed' by the board to an early parole docket were prohibited from early parole consideration because of other statutory restrictions,” he said.
“After careful consideration of all the facts and circumstances in this matter, I have determined that the violations of the Open Meeting Act are willful, conscious and purposeful violations of the law,” Prater wrote. “Additionally, I find the Board's actions to be deliberate disregard of Oklahoma's Open Meeting Act. The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board's violations in this matter are egregious, aggravated and a clear attempt to operate in secrecy, outside of public scrutiny.”
Alex Weintz, Gov. Mary Fallin's communications director, issued a statement Wednesday saying the governor is reviewing Prater's letter and shares his belief that the pardon and parole process should be as open as possible.
The parole board's moratorium was declared at the governor's request, Weintz said.
“To ensure the board is meeting a high standard of transparency and openness, the governor has asked the board to review its practice of posting meeting notifications and to increase the level of information it makes available to the public prior to those meetings,” Weintz said.
The Oklahoma governor currently reviews all parole recommendations in the state. To date, Fallin has approved parole for 51 percent of the inmates who have been recommended for parole by the parole board, Weintz said.
The list of inmates Prater alleges were given improper preferential parole consideration includes some who were serving life sentences and at least one who was serving a sentence of life without parole. Among the noteworthy individuals on the list were:
• Ben W. Jones Jr., 58, who served a 57-year sentence out of Oklahoma County for a 1974 first-degree murder conviction and was serving additional time for escape from a penal institution when paroled.
• Jonathan W. Davis, 52, who is serving a life sentence out of Beckham County for first-degree murder. He remains incarcerated.
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