The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board said a simple form filled out online by crime victims helped keep more than 30 prisoners from having their sentences commuted this week.
The form was only introduced to the Pardon and Parole Board's website two months ago. Up until then, victims had to protest in person, or send a letter in the mail.
There were a lot of factors that went into the decisions about which prisoners should get out early during the largest single-day release in the nation's history, including conduct in prison and whether the prisoner had to register as a sex offender.
If a prisoner had a victim associated with his or her case, the Pardon and Parole Board said it automatically did not consider that person for release.
"Staff decided that the mere presence of a victim was enough of a concern that they shouldn't be granted accelerated single-stage commutation relief. That those situations are better served in a traditional two-stage process,” Pardon and Parole Board Executive Director Steven Bickley said.
The form is one page long and asks five questions. The board said victims do not need to answer every question, just what they're comfortable with or feel the board needs to know.
Bickley said filling out the form is not like having “veto power over the board.” In other parole situations, the board “heavily weighs” a victim’s protest, but it does not automatically change a prisoner’s situation like it did for this mass commutation.
"I think some victims are scared. I think there is that fear of confronting or being confronted in court,” Heather Prater said.
Prater is the Victim Witness Center Director at the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office. She works with victims to help them through the court process.
"The problem is, is if victims do not stay involved, cases are dismissed. Cases kind of get lost or forgotten,” she said.
Prater, along with the parole board, wants victims to know they may have more power than they realize.
The parole board says many of the 32 prisoners would have likely been given a favorable recommendation for release. Instead, they are still locked up because a victim spoke up.
The parole board said the information victims fill out is kept confidential.
Bickley noted in a phone interview that just because a victim is registered with Vine Link, it does not mean he or she is registered with the Pardon and Parole Board. He said people need to register separately.