Pardon And Parole Board Divided On Governor's Role

Tuesday, December 4th 2007, 3:45 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Members of Oklahoma's Pardon and Parole Board were divided on Tuesday on a plan to remove the governor from the parole process, with one saying she agrees with the idea and another expressing opposition to excluding the governor entirely.

Board members discussed the issue as state lawmakers study a proposal to remove the governor from the process of pardoning and granting parole to Oklahoma prison inmates. Oklahoma is the only state in the nation in which the governor must sign off on every inmate parole request.

Supporters of the proposal say it would depoliticize the pardon and parole process and quicken the pace in which requests are considered and granted, helping to relieve pressure on Oklahoma's crowded prison system.

Opponents say the governor provides an extra check and balance to the system and offers crime victims a final chance to protest a pardon or parole request.

Parole requests are initially reviewed by the state's five-member Pardon and Parole Board, which makes recommendations to the governor.

In May, the Oklahoma Board of Corrections, which sets policy for the state's prison system, adopted a resolution supporting restructuring of the governor's role in order to modernize the parole process.

The Oklahoma Constitution mandates the governor's role in the process and any proposed change must be approved in a public referendum.

Pardon and Parole Board member Susan Loving of Edmond, a former state attorney general who was appointed to the board by Gov. Brad Henry, said she believes the state should follow the example of the vast majority of states where the governor has no role in the pardon and parole process.

Aside from Oklahoma, the governors of Maryland and California play limited roles in the parole process involving inmates convicted of violent crimes or serving lengthy sentences, Pardon and Parole Board officials said.

Board member James Brown of McAlester, another Henry appointee, indicated he had doubts about the plan to eliminate the governor from the process.

``I'm not for taking him totally out,'' Brown said.

A spokesman for Henry said the governor has not taken a position on the issue.

``It's a policy question that the Legislature and the people should decide,'' communications director Paul Sund said.

Sund said Henry takes his parole oversight responsibilities seriously and personally reviews hundreds of inmate files every month.

``He doesn't relish the prospect of going through thousands and thousands of parole files. It's very time consuming,'' Sund said. ``It takes many, many hours each month to go through that many files.''

But many citizens, including crime victims and their families ``appreciate having one more set of eyes to review parole files,'' Sund said.

``The parole process was never designed to serve as a prison overcrowding relief valve,'' Sund said.