The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is considering a major policy change because of accusations inmates for years were brought up for possible early release with no notice to the public.
The board briefly discussed the proposal Tuesday and will take it up again in December. The board plans to vote on the proposal in January after getting public comment.
The proposal is the latest move by the board to be more open and transparent since Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater launched a criminal investigation of board actions.
The investigation is still under way.
At issue in the investigation are instances where a board member recommended an inmate be placed on a future docket for possible early parole or sentence commutation.
The board for years voted on those recommendations during the part of meetings described on board agendas as docket modifications. At least three board members had to agree for an inmate to move forward. No notice was given to the public who was being recommended.
The proposed policy change would require the names of inmates in those instances to be put on meeting agendas. All agendas are public records and posted on the board's website.
“This language may be revised at any time by the board after they review (it) and after public comment so it cannot be considered what the board will do at this time,” the board's general counsel, Tracy George, told The Oklahoman. “The language is a draft only and as such is only suggested language.”
Prater, in a scathing Aug. 8 letter, accused the board of deliberately disregarding 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,” he wrote.
Prater specifically complained about 50 inmates voted on during docket modifications since 2010. “Outside of board members, no person had the ability to determine what inmate would or could be the next fortunate soul to emerge from the darkness of the ‘Docket Modification' portion of the board's business with an ... opportunity to attain an early ... release,” he wrote.
Board members and officials denied they acted in secret. They said the step that Prater complained about only determined whether an inmate got on the docket of a future meeting.
Board officials said the name of any inmate who made it on to a future docket would appear on the board's website. Prosecutors and the public then could object to any early release.
The attorney general's office also is investigating whether the board violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
The board also is considering changes to other policies because of the passage this month of State Question 762.
The measure amended the Oklahoma Constitution to remove the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders. The governor still has the final say on violent offenders.
The board plans to vote in January on changes required by the constitutional amendment. The board intends to get input from the public, prosecutors and legislators before final votes on those policies.
Board Chairman Marc Dreyer urged the board “to think through every possible thing that we can” about the policies.
“We waited 60 years to get here. It would be more trouble than we would want to imagine if we came out of the chute on this upside down,” Dreyer said.
The board is meeting this week and again in December. Officials said Gov. Mary Fallin still will have the final say on any nonviolent offenders recommended for parole in November.
Board members plan to put off for a month their votes on any nonviolent offenders on dockets in December that they agree should be paroled.