Parole System Broken?

March 11, 2008

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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Current Trend for Possibility of Parole in Oklahoma Not Good for those Found Guilty of a Crime

October 7, 2007

The number of paroles has been dropping in Oklahoma for a decade, but observers are not sure exactly why. In 1999, an early release program allowed an inmate named Lamonte Fields out of prison early. A few days later, Fields killed his girlfriend and her parents and was himself killed by the police. Immediately, the governor cancelled the early-release program, and paroles have been dropping since, beginning the following year when paroles dropped ten percent.

Also in 1999, Governor Frank Keating signed the Truth in Sentencing law, which required inmates to serve no less than 85% of a sentence for certain crimes. Before that, sentences had been treated as served after completion of 1/3 of the sentence, and it is still true for the sentences that are not subject to the 85% rule. This 85% rule covers more crimes every years so the number of inmates to which this 85% rule applies increases every year.

From 2001 to 2006, the rate of the governor’s granting of paroles recommended by the Parole Board dropped about ten percent. In the same span of years, parole applications which reached the governor’s office dropped by 2,000. Last year, more than 25% of the inmates coming up for parole withdraw themselves from consideration.

One of the reasons parole applications have dropped is that many inmates choose to serve out their sentences in full, rather go on parole. An inmate might get out earlier on a parole, but he has to comply with a lot of restrictions in his life as a parolee. Many inmates have chosen simply to wait till they complete their sentences in full, and when they get out, they do not have to be supervised.

Another reason parole applications have dropped is that the wait has increased from the time the Parole Board recommends a parole and the governor acts on that recommendation. In 2001, the wait was 17 days. In 2006, the wait had increased to 89 days. More and more inmates are getting out without parole while their parole application is still sitting on the governor’s desk. That number was 200 inmates last year.

This leads anyone accused of a crime to the conclusion that their best chance at freedom or a lesser sentence is to get the best defense possible in Oklahoma to protect their interests rather than planning on an early parole. Once again, this indicates how tough the Oklahoma court system can be, more so than other states. If you or someone you know is facing a criminal charge please visit my site at http://www.edmondgeary.com to find out how to choose the best attorney for your case.