Parole System Broken?

The Oklahoma Sentencing Commission voted on January 24, 2008, to limit the role of the governor in the parole process. This follows a million dollar audit of the Department of Corrections by an independent audit company. One of the recommendations of the audit was that removing the governor from decisions of parole would stop all growth in the state’s prison inmate population.

The Sentencing Commission itself had previously suggested to the legislature in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007 that the governor be removed from the parole process.

The audit recommended the governor be removed from the parole process in either of two ways: either to amend the state constitution to delete the governor’s signature as a requirement for paroling nonviolent offenders, or to require the governor to be involved at the request of a district attorney or a crime victim. The Sentencing Commission’s vote did not address either particular fashion and chose to leave the specifics up the legislature.

Meanwhile, a proposal by Rep. Sue Tibbs of Tulsa would automatically approve any parole application that sits on the governor’s desk for more than a month. This proposal would not require any amendment of the state constitution.

Everyone in the state recognizes that the prison population has grown out of control, or, if not out of control, out of the means for the state to fund it. Year after year the Department of Corrections needs more millions of dollars, and the percentage of parolees continues to drop.

We Oklahomans want to lock up every offender as long as possible, but we really are not willing to pay for it. We are not willing to spend our millions of dollars on more prison beds and leave our highways, schools, and hospitals without funding.

This same audit found that Drug Courts have not had a measurable impact on prison admissions, and they are therefore not fulfilling their purpose. The Drug Courts were created to reduce the prison population, to divert only those bound for prison who qualify as simple drug offenders, to participate instead in out-of-custody Drug Court. It seems that some District Attorneys in that state pursue the intended purpose strictly, and others have sent to Drug Court a number of drug offenders who would not otherwise go to prison.

The success of Drug Courts acclaimed by nearly everyone in the state may require a second look.

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