6 Investigates: Records Show Oklahoma Prisons Release Most Criminals Early

Monday, November 10th 2014, 11:33 pm
By: News On 6

It turns out Oklahoma prisons release almost all criminals before their sentences have been served as long as it's not life.

Four months ago, a man terrorized Tulsa, raping and assaulting seven women, and police told us he had been let out of prison early.

We began looking at some other cases and found out the man charged with beheading his coworker in Moore had also been let out early.

Oklahoma has a law that requires the most violent criminals to spend at least 85 percent of their sentences in prison.

That covers 22 of the most violent crimes, but, for all of the others, there's a points system that allows them to serve only a fraction of the time.

The summer of 2014 in Tulsa, a summer many women lived in fear as a rapist repeatedly attacked women all over town.

"He didn't seem human to me. He seemed like a subhuman," one victim said.

Police said DNA evidence from her case led them to Desmond Campbell, an ex-con with a history of crimes against women; although none of them violent enough to qualify for the 85 percent minimum prison sentence.

7/8/2014 Related Story: Tulsa DA: Police Had Their Man In Rape Suspect Desmond Campbell

Campbell was let out of prison early after serving six years of a ten-year sentence for attempted kidnapping, despite being denied parole for bad behavior.

One woman believes he should have never been let out, at least not until he was fully rehabilitated.

"What is happening now doesn't seem to be working," she said.

Prison officials said Campbell got out early because he earned early release credits, also called “good time” credits.”

Prisoners get the credits for all kinds of things: completing educational courses or substance abuse programs or attaining certain goals, like creating a resume.

There are allegations that the Department of Corrections is abusing the earned credits program.

A prison guard's wife wrote to 6 Investigates, complaining that, "The prisoners are getting no points marked against them, so that D.O.C. can get them out quicker." She writes, "This is not right. They are letting out hardened prisoners that have no remorse for their conduct..."

We asked Oklahoma's D.O.C. to provide us with a list of every prisoner released the same week they set Desmond Campbell free.

It's just a snapshot of the overall prison release system, but a telling one.

Our calculations show 193 of the 250 prisoners released that week served less than half of their sentences in prison, 36 inmates stayed in prison for less than a quarter of their sentences and only one of them did 100 percent of his prison time.

This does not include time served in county jails awaiting trial and sentencing.

"Every prison you find is just a little different than the other one," said State Representative Bobby Cleveland.

Cleveland has visited almost every Oklahoma prison over the past two years, studying our system, looking for a way to fix what he says is clearly broken.

He said the state's increasing prison population is the biggest problem. He believes Oklahoma's 85 percent minimum keeps the most dangerous criminals in prison where they need to be, and that we shouldn't have to worry about the other ones who get out early.

"I think it's a good law, but you've got to be very careful what you're doing,” Cleveland said. “That you're not letting out the bad guys."

He does question a tactic the new D.O.C. Director is using; giving prisoners their credits back after losing them for bad behavior, something Desmond Campbell himself cashed in on.

“I couldn't figure out how some of them could get that many good time credits given to them. In some cases it was pretty outrageous," Cleveland said.

He and several other lawmakers questioned prison officials during a hearing at the state capitol last month, where a D.O.C. representative admitted the earned credits program is used to ease prisoner overcrowding.

"I understand your concern with the earned credits program. The difficulty is that was established by the legislature because they were coming in the door faster than they were going out the door," said Terry Watkins with the D.O.C.

When questioned about the early release of accused serial rapist Desmond Campbell and the man accused of beheading his Moore coworker.

Officials responded, Alton Nolen had never been convicted of a violent crime, and releasing inmates like him early is routine.

9/30/2014 Related Story: Charges Filed Against Suspect In Moore Workplace Beheading

"I understand your frustration with them. I wish I could have looked into their eyes and determined that they would commit the crimes that they committed. We can't do that," Watkins said.

For one woman, who refuses to be a lifelong victim, the system is broken the moment criminals start just "doing time" and not doing something useful or meaningful with whatever time they serve.

"I wondered what it would take to rehabilitate this man so he wouldn't get right out of prison and start doing the same thing," she said.

Cleveland said Oklahoma needs to put more emphasis on drug courts and rehabilitation to fix the system.

He's also trying to get a bill passed that would allow the 85 percent prisoners, to start earning good time credits the day they enter prison, they'd still have to serve 85 percent of their sentences, but would have incentive to behave so they could get out after that.