I was pleased that all six state questions were approved this month, but especially State Question 762 removing the Governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenses.
I’ve fought for this issue since getting into office, and I was grateful that Former House Speaker Kris Steele coauthored Senate Joint Resolution 25 with me putting this question to a vote of the people. It’s an issue that legislators have been fighting for for over 60 years.
Oklahoma is the last state in the nation to require its Governor to review all paroles for both violent and nonviolent offenses so it only made sense to pass this new law.
Removing the governor from this process is going to make a tremendous difference by saving taxpayers’ millions of dollars housing inmates who previously had to wait an average of three months or 100 days for the governor to review their paroles. The daily average cost to Oklahoma taxpayers of housing an inmate is just over $40 a day. So having the governor involved in the nonviolent parole process can cost citizens anywhere from $1,200 (if case reviewed within a month) up to $4,000 per inmate (if it takes three months to review a case). On average, the board annually recommends about 1,200 nonviolent offenders for parole so the cost to Oklahomans can be anywhere from $1.44 million to $4.8 million per year just waiting for the governor to review the cases.
Another problem with the former process was how often Oklahoma governors disregarded the recommendations of their boards. These boards are made up of judges and criminal justice experts who have years of experience dealing with incarceration issues. Although these decisions to reject the boards’ advice may not have been political in nature, it’s possible that politics could have played a role. Any governor receiving counsel cautioning them about how any parole decision may impact future elections undermines merit within the nonviolent parole process. Therefore it’s good getting the governor out of this process where politics can trump good policy.
Some opponents of the measure said that we’d lose the governor’s input in the nonviolent parole process, but they’ll still have input because they appoint three of the five board members and all serve only during the term of the governor who appointed them.
Another thing to remember is that it cost around $14,600 to house an inmate for a year. When they’re denied parole, they may have to stay in prison for several more years before they come back up for parole. By removing the governor from the non-violent process, the board will be the final say, savings the state millions of dollars and ensuring merit, not politics, prevail.
Oklahoma’s current Pardon and Parole Board reviews over 600 cases monthly. Last year, the board interviewed 7,000 inmates who were eligible for parole but only recommended 2,000 for parole – showing that there continues to be a low rate of parole approval. This information is necessary to combat fear mongering of some speculating the potential for unbridled paroles. Whether appointed by a republican or democrat governor, the board will always have public safety and a desire to make good decisions (which reflect upon the governor) in mind.
Parole also improves public safety. When an inmate completes their sentence while incarcerated they aren’t monitored when released. However, when an offender is paroled they remain under state supervision until their entire sentence is complete. It’s important to keep tabs on offenders as they reintegrate into society. When parole is allowed, the accountability that comes with their state supervision reaffirms that their behavior on the outside mirrors the good behavior that allowed them to be paroled.
This inefficient system also hurts the families of those individuals on parole. Currently, nonviolent parolees have to stay in prison up to three months after the board recommends parole because the governor has to sign off on that recommendation. While these individuals may have committed a crime, we can’t forget that they’re fathers, husbands and sons and their families suffer a financial burden when they’re in prison. Their families may be forced to turn to government assistance because they’ve lost a paycheck. By speeding up the parole process, we can get these people back in the job force so they can support their families.
The passage of SQ 762 is a major victory for Oklahoma. It’s estimated that the change will save the state around $3.3 million a year - that’s money that the Department of Corrections will be able to use in other areas. This will also allow the governor more time to focus on parole recommendations for violent offenders, which are the most dangerous criminals and pose the greatest threat to public safety, as well as focus on his/her most important job, which is helping create a balanced budget, attracting businesses to the state and working to strengthen our economy.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 513A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5586.