Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board members say 'there were no secret meetings'

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 on Tuesday.
by Randy Ellis Published: August 14, 2012

Secret docket?

Board members told The Oklahoman they recommended such inmates for early release consideration under commutation authority rather than parole laws and that their actions were therefore legal.

Prater said Tuesday that he believes the board does have authority to recommend commutations to the governor, but he argued that was not what they were doing.

“They were calling it a parole,” he said. “They were putting people on the parole docket. If they wanted to call it a commutation, I understand that there is an attorney general's opinion that has been requested on that. I think a strict reading of the Constitution says that they are allowed to commute 85 percent prisoners even though I don't think that's the intent or will of the people ... or the legislative intent based on all the restrictions they put on early parole.”

Prater said placing someone on a parole docket and then calling it a commutation is “a problem.”

“Let's be more honest and open about that,” he said. “Commutations ought to be relatively rare.”

Harkins said the board doesn't have a “commutations docket,” as such, because that was abolished at the request of former Gov. Brad Henry during his term in office.

Prater said “docket modification” doesn't give district attorneys and the general public notice of what is really happening.

“That's why I call it secret,” Prater said. “Now was it done in the dark behind closed doors? Absolutely not. But any member of the public who would have looked at the docket modification item, they wouldn't have known what that meant.”

Moore said he understands Prater's position.

“He has a point there,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, we're humans, as well ... When you do something for a long time, you don't notice it until somebody points it out.”

85% law is questioned

Board member Richard Dugger agreed that the docket modification agenda item can and should be made more clear.

However, he said an Aug. 1 letter he received from state Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah, demonstrates that not all legislators favor requiring inmates sentenced under the 85 percent law to serve 85 percent of their sentences before being considered for early release.

In that letter, Sen. Wilson asks Dugger to consider recommending a “compassionate and reasonable solution,” for a 57-year-old inmate named Curtis Horton, who was sentenced to 35 years under the 85 percent law and cannot be considered for parole until he is 82.

“I am disappointed by how little compassion the Oklahoma Legislature shows in crafting legislation to punish,” Wilson said in the letter.

Dugger, a former district attorney, questioned how Prater has handled the current controversy. Dugger said when he was district attorney and received complaints about agenda items not being specific, he would contact board members and suggest changes.

All five board members said they are willing to make any changes necessary to make their actions clear to the public.

“We are a praying board,” said board member Currie Ballard. “Whatever errors we have done, we will correct, and they weren't deliberate.”

by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau 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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