The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday adopted a new policy and procedures so that it can begin paroling nonviolent offenders directly.
The changes were necessary because the governor no longer has the final say on parole in nonviolent cases.
Voters in November removed the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders when they approved State Question 762.
Voters approved the constitutional amendment 745,133 to 514,080, even though Gov. Mary Fallin and district attorneys across the state came out against it.
The governor still makes the final decision on parole for offenders convicted of specified violent offenses.
The board unanimously approved the new policy and procedures during a special meeting Monday in Oklahoma City. The board will meet again next week for its regular monthly session.
Executive Director Terry Jenks said a nonviolent inmate should get out of prison considerably quicker under the new procedure.
Jenks said the old procedure allowed the governor 30 days to decide on parole recommendations in nonviolent cases.
Delay in releases
Releases will not be immediate, though.
In each nonviolent case, a parole certificate must be prepared, the offender must sign it and the board has to file it with the Oklahoma secretary of state. Also, the Corrections Department must verify the paroled inmate has a “home offer” before the inmate actually is released.
The five board members had a lengthy discussion Monday about who at the agency should sign the certificates of the paroled nonviolent offenders.
The members had agreed that it should be the executive director but, then, Chairman Marc Dreyer said he would like to sign at least the first one.
“This is just me wanting to make history,” said Dreyer, a Tulsa pastor.
The board finally decided either the board's “chairperson” or executive director would sign the certificates.
What the public said
The board sought written public comment on the new policy and procedures but it received only a few emails.
One critic of the change wrote: “I believe the people of the state of Oklahoma never intended for the Pardon and Parole Board to have free rein without the governor being involved. The way the state question was written caused a lot of people to vote contrary to their intentions.”
One supporter wrote: “It is my firm belief that the governor should be taken out of the parole process, altogether. … If we can't trust the people in the parole process, who watch the inmates during their incarceration; the case managers, the employers, the instructors, the guards, and the parole investigators' recommendation, and the Parole Board, why do we pay any of them?”