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October 14, 2012

Parole ballot issue draws opposition

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

“I do think this is good policy,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. If the issue passes, the governor can devote more resources to studying recommendations involving violent offenders, he said.

“I think it is important to keep the governor involved in the process for violent offenders,” Steele said.

But opponents say Prater’s accusations about the Pardon and Parole Board have raised concerns about expanding its authority.

“Some of the recent actions that the board has taken kind of gave the DAs some pause. It made them have some concerns with the process,” said Trent Baggett, assistant executive coordinator of the District Attorneys Council, which last month urged voters to defeat the measure.

Among other things, Prater claims the board has considered early release for inmates who are not eligible.

The prosecutor said a woman found guilty in 2008 of manslaughter in a man’s death was required to serve 85 percent of her 10-year sentence, or eight and one-half years, before she would be eligible for parole. Yet, the victim’s family was notified she was on the Pardon and Parole Board’s docket in July — four years early.

Baggett said the proposal would impact offenders convicted of almost all drug crimes as well as second-degree burglary and white-collar crimes that are classified as nonviolent.

“It’s important to remember what is included in nonviolent offenses,” he said.

Fallin said she still supports the concept of removing the governor from the parole process to streamline the procedure for offenders with no history of violence. But she said the ballot measure would define non-violent offenders only by their current offense and would not require consideration of past violent behavior.

“Since taking office, I have denied parole for 437 offenders who would be considered ‘nonviolent’ under the terms of State Question 762, keeping them off our streets and out of our communities,” she said.

The executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board, Terry Jenks, said the five-member board has taken no position on the ballot measure.

“They have kind of remained neutral on the issue,” Jenks said. “That’s a public policy issue that the voters will decide in November.”

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