NORMAN — State Question 762, one of six on the Oklahoma ballot Nov. 6, got the most support from Oklahoma legislators looking to make a dent in the state’s prison population. After it was first passed, the attorney general ruled lawmakers couldn’t remove the governor from the pardon and parole process, since it was part of the Constitution.
Now legislators need voter approval to change the way paroles and pardons are handled. If approved, non-violent offenders whose entire criminal histories are reviewed and recommended for parole don’t have to wait on the governor. That process takes about three months, according to House Speaker Kris Steele, who is traveling the state pushing the measure.
Mr. Steele, who is term limited and finishes his service in December, says that extra time costs the state about $55 per day per inmate. Quicker paroles and alternatives when parole is revoked could keep the state from having to build thousands of additional prison beds.
Currently, state prisons are 99 percent full and sentenced inmates are filling up county jails waiting on a bed in a state facility. Corrections is the third highest item on the state’s budget, behind education and health care.
Oklahoma is the only state that still involves the governor in the process. In a way, the governor will still be involved, as he or she appoints the majority of the parole board members.