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OK Governor's Office Sends Letter To Pardon and Parole Board

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Governor Mary Fallin weighed in on the recent controversy surrounding the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater accused the board of using a secret docket to lessen inmates' sentences. Some cases were considered as a favor.

8/14/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma DA Faces Off With Pardon And Parole Board

Prater alleged that over the last several years, the Pardon and Parole Board used secret dockets to consider commuting 51 sentences. Prater said those inmates should not have been even considered. Some were convicted killers.

The Governor's Office released a statement Thursday after several meetings between her staff and the board members. Her administration clearly sided with the board in the letter: "This office also maintains any alleged failure by the Pardon and Parole Board to comply with the Open Meetings Act was inadvertent and not willful."

That letter recommended that the board make changes starting by clarifying their process for commuting sentences for the public as well as implementing a separate commutation docket for all considered cases. They also recommend creating email accounts for each board member to increase availability, efficiency and coordination.

Prater wanted to invalidate all 51 of the early considerations by the board. He previously said his office is still pursuing a criminal investigation against the board.

Full Statement:

Dear Mr. Jenks & Ms. Harkins:

On August 13, 2012, the Governor's staff met with the both of you and additional Pardon and Parole Board staff to discuss the recent public concern regarding openness and transparency at the Pardon and Parole Board meetings. This meeting was useful and productive.

Our office recommended several changes to the Board 's policies and practices. After much collaboration and discussion regarding the Board's staffing levels, current work load and processes, we determined what changes could be feasibly implemented by the Board while continuing to consider your fiscal and budgetary constraints.

Below are our final recommendations:

1) Implement a separate commutation docket for all cases being commuted;

2) Ensure investigative reports are accurate and complete by:

    a. Creating a standard for what qualifies as an acceptable and adequate investigative report;

    b. Requiring reports which fail to meet this standard to be resubmitted;

    c. Expanding upon information currently provided regarding previous criminal history and     

    d. Including pre-sentence investigations;

    e. Continuing to ensure the ballots (which reflect the Board's vote) and other documents are
        properly notated so the Governor's Office receives notice of D.A. Protests, Victim's Protests 
        and Delegates who attend on behalf of offenders; and

    f. Requiring final approval of the reports by Board staff;

3) Evaluate the risk assessment instrument utilized by the Board;

4) Clarify the Board's parole and commutation process for the public. This includes updating information on the Board's website to explain early review and instances when a commutation might occur, clarifying early release language on the Board's agenda, and ensuring that terminology on the website is clear and consistent ;

5) Add a statement on the Board's website to remind interested parties (including victims, district attorneys, offenders, and offender's families) of their responsibility to forward protest or support information to Governor's Office if the Board recommends a case for approval;

6) Create electronic mail accounts for each of the Board member to increase availability, efficiency and coordination;

7) Continue to provide the District Attorney's Council (DAC) with notice of all the cases listed on the Board's docket.

After contacting the District Attorney's Council (DAC), our office made additional recommendations:

8) Simplify the DAC's current ability to search Board dockets by organizing cases based upon where they are at in the process;

9) Simplify the current searchable database online to allow the public to use one central search engine to locate which docket an offender's case has been placed on.

Our office continues to assert that the Board has the authority under Article 6, Section 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution to recommend commutations on all offenses including death sentences, life without parole, and 85 percent crimes. This office also maintains any alleged failure by the Pardon and Parole Board to comply with the Open Meetings Act was inadvertent and not willful.

We do believe the Board's policies and practices can be improved and simplified for the public. Your willingness to participate in these discussions, suggest changes and your eagerness to implement change has been greatly appreciated by our office."

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