A Constitutional amendment voters approved in November will soon make it easier for thousands of Oklahomans living behind prison walls to be released on parole for non-violent offenses. At the same time, the Oklahoma parole board got a little more freedom, too.
Starting in January, the governor will no longer be allowed to second-guess Oklahoma parole board decisions related to non-violent offenders. The change also means taxpayers won’t be left holding the bill for as much as $3 million a year when inmates are fed and housed while they wait out one of the most tedious parole processes nationwide.
Until now, Oklahoma was the only state that required the governor’s approval for every parole decision. Voters put a stop to that in November, overwhelmingly approving an amendment that removes the governor from parole decisions for inmates convicted of non-violent offenses. Revised Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board policies and procedures reflecting the voters’ mandate are set to take effect in January, pending the board’s final approval.
From a statewide perspective, the change could make a slight dent in what some see as an Oklahoma crisis. Our state imprisons more of its population than any almost any other state in the nation – a nation that otherwise incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world. On top of that, Oklahoma holds the dubious distinction of having a higher incarceration rate among women than any other state. More than 90 percent of those women in Oklahoma prisons are mothers.
A Northpointe Institute for Public Management study found that the Oklahoma parole board itself approves only 13 percent of applicants, but the governor then grants parole to only 11 percent of applicants. The Northpointe study suggests several reasons Oklahoma inmates might rather serve their full sentence than seek parole. Among those reasons is the long wait for a parole decision. Removing the governor’s office from the process in non-violent parole applicants may help reduce that long wait.
Prior to November’s election, some Oklahoma prosecutors spoke out against the Constitutional amendment, but support for the reform didn’t follow partisan lines. Voters’ approval is “a pretty good indication that the public wants criminal justice policy based on facts and proven strategies rather than emotion and anecdotes,” Republican Speaker of the House Kris Steele told the Tulsa World.
Although few avail themselves of the opportunity, inmates who apply for parole may seek an attorney’s advice and representation. Especially after a change in the law governing parole applications, the expert insight of a skilled Oklahoma criminal defense lawyer can be helpful. If you, your friend or your family member is considering applying for parole in Oklahoma, contact the Tulsa criminal defense lawyer at the Wirth Law Office to get answers to your questions about the Oklahoma parole process.
For a free confidential consultation with an Oklahoma criminal defense attorney call the Wirth Law Office at (918) 879-1681 (or toll free at (888) Wirth-Law) or submit the question form at the top right of this page.