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Fixing a role in parole


Harry Coates May 16th, 2012

The state Department of Corrections struggles financially every year because we have some of the most overcrowded prisons in the country.

“Tough on crime,” “truth in sentencing” and the “jailhouse” concept for juvenile offenders all play into our overcrowded prisons. It’s time to get away from these useless and expensive concepts and focus more on being “smart on crime.”

Campaign contributions from private prison operators have led to a strong “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality among legislators. Every year, lawmakers vote to lock up more offenders, which financially benefits the “for profit” prisons and plays well to the public. One of many examples includes Avalon Corrections, which was a top contributor to Gov. Mary Fallin’s inaugural ball.

Oklahoma voters will have an opportunity to address these issues. Earlier this session, the Legislature passed a measure ensuring that voters this November will be able to decide whether to remove our governor from the pardon and parole process, something the other 49 states already have done.

The governor would retain considerable control over the board in that he or she appoints three of its five members.

The other two members are appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the presiding judge of the Criminal Court of Appeals.

Removing the governor from the process will save taxpayers millions of dollars by allowing the Pardon and Parole Board to be the final say in paroles. Oklahoma governors commonly overturn the recommendations of the board, which keeps these individuals behind bars at an average cost of more than $50 per day. Removing the governor from the process will allow him or her to focus on issues more pertinent to their elected position, including balancing the state budget and strengthening our economy by helping attract quality jobs to Oklahoma.

Removing the governor will not only impact the state and the Department of Corrections financially, but also the families of these parolees. It’ll help get them back into society quicker so they can begin supporting their families and contributing to the state’s economy. This, in turn, helps get families off government assistance, which frees up appropriated money to the Department of Human Services that can be used for other vital government services.

Finally, reviewing parolees puts the governor is an awkward position and can put him or her at odds with voters.

We never want our governor making a decision on a parole based on whether it could possibly affect votes in the next election. These decisions need to be left up to the board that can make decisions without fear of repercussions come election time — a liberty the governor doesn’t have.

Coates represents District 28 in the Oklahoma State Senate.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

 
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