OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board unanimously approved the first-ever group of inmates who qualify for administrative parole. The new system does not release inmates immediately, but allows eligible nonviolent offenders to be moved along in the parole process without a formal hearing.
“What administrative parole is designed to do is to take the process and make it more efficient,” explained Damion Shade, the criminal justice policy analyst for OK Policy. OK Policy is a Tulsa-based think tank that provides research on a variety public policy issues. Shade said the new administrative process, which was signed into law last year by then Governor Mary Fallin, would make the parole process easier not just for the board, but also for offenders.
Parole board meetings take days at a time as the members interview inmates up for consideration and they vote on placing inmates onto a parole docket. Streamlining the process promises to get inmates who are eligible for release through the complicated parole process quicker, thus saving money and resources.
“There were more than 3,000 prison beds that could be saved at an annual cost savings of more than $17 million to the state of Oklahoma,” Shade explained of the fiscal impact report associated with the law change.
Shade spoke with FOX 25 after sitting through much of the third day of a three-day pardon and parole meeting which saw the board approve several inmates for early release and recommended commutations for offenders who were serving lengthy sentences, often for nonviolent crimes. The March meeting was the first meeting of the board with Governor Kevin Stitt’s appointments to the board. Those members expressed concern about lengthy sentences, sometimes life sentences, for drug crimes.
Shade says the “tough on crime” years of the late 1980s and 1990s brought about long prison sentences for many nonviolent, often drug-related, crimes.
“In too many counties the biggest mental health and substance abuse provider is a county jail,” Shade told FOX 25. “This is not the best, nor is it the most cost-effective way, for us to deal with people whose actual issue is substance addiction. We shouldn't be trying to solve the problem of substance abuse with incarceration, we have to find better ways to remediate that.”