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October 14, 2012

Parole ballot issue draws opposition

OKLAHOMA CITY — Opposition is mounting against a proposed amendment to Oklahoma’s Constitution that would grant more authority to the state Pardon and Parole Board by removing the governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders.

Supporters say the change will reduce the strain on the state’s parole system by making it more efficient, eliminate delays in implementing parole recommendations and cut incarceration costs.

But the measure, State Question 762, has come under scrutiny since Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater accused the Pardon and Parole Board in August of operating a secret parole docket and granting early parole to certain state prison inmates, including some who were not eligible for it.

Within a week, Gov. Mary Fallin asked the board to change some of its policies and practices. And a statement provided by the governor’s office to The Associated Press indicates the parole fracas has forced Fallin to back away from her earlier support of the measure.

“In the interest of public safety and the wellbeing of Oklahoma, the governor’s office should continue to provide this oversight until additional reforms and changes can be made at the Pardon and Parole Board,” Fallin said.

Last year, Fallin signed legislation overwhelmingly approved by the Legislature to modify the governor’s role in the parole process and speed it up for non-violent offenders.

The legislation did not go into effect after the Attorney General’s Office ruled it was unconstitutional.

Oklahoma prosecutors are also weighing in against the proposal. Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn, president of the state District Attorneys Council, said removing the governor from parole decisions “would be a terrible mistake.”

“There would be absolutely no accountability for those who are tasked with releasing criminals from our prisons,” Mashburn said in a statement. “It is imperative to keep the governor in this process as someone who takes this task very seriously.”

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