Past Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board agendas could have been worded better, but there was never an attempt to sneak commutations by anyone, board members told The Oklahoman Tuesday.
“We've not tried to conceal anything from anyone,” board Chairwoman Lynnell Harkins said. “We'll do whatever we need to make it right.”
“There were no secret meetings,” agreed Parole Board member David Moore, of Edmond. “I understand the perception and the appearance, but there was no mal-intent to not be transparent. If there is some way we can tweak our process to be more transparent, then we certainly want to do that ... We will fix what we need to fix to make sure there is no appearance of secrecy.”
Board members made their comments to The Oklahoman Tuesday outside of the first regular Pardon and Parole Board meeting held since Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater released a scathing letter last week. The letter accused parole board members of repeatedly violating the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act by operating a secret early release consideration docket that included inmates not eligible for parole because they hadn't met mandatory sentencing requirements.
Prater attended the morning session of Tuesday's meeting and met briefly with several board members during breaks.
Afterward, he described the discussions as “appropriate” and “professional” but said his office's criminal investigation into whether the board willfully violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act is ongoing.
“We're in the middle of that right now,” Prater said. He also said that it is unresolved whether inmates who were released under these disputed circumstances will be required to return to prison.
Prater said the most surprising thing he learned Tuesday was that many board members were not aware of his concerns that they were violating the Open Meeting Act before the district attorney sending out a letter on Aug. 8.
“What I was surprised about was that they were surprised when my letter came out Aug. 8,” Prater said. “That's the first they had heard of any of my concerns. I had called the governor's office on July 19 with my concerns and, as well, Terry Jenks, the director of the parole board with my concerns and fully laid out that there were issues with prisoners being placed early on these parole dockets. So I was amazed to find out today, and they were quite upset about it, that they had not been notified previous to my Aug. 8 letter being revealed.”
“That's astounding to me and unfair to them,” Prater said.
Alex Weintz, the governor's communications director, confirmed Prater spoke with the governor's deputy general counsel in July, but said he has been told that Prater only complained about the parole board's practices and didn't mention alleged open meeting violations or illegal actions.
Prater said his secrecy criticism of the board centers on an agenda item labeled “docket modification” that the board has repeatedly listed on its monthly agendas.
It is under that agenda item that board members have asked their colleagues to consider adding names of inmates to early release dockets who ordinarily would not yet be eligible for parole because they had not served enough of their sentences and obtained enough good behavior credits. Prater especially objected to inmates being placed on the list who had committed major crimes and been sentenced under a statute that requires them to serve 85 percent of their sentences before becoming eligible for parole.