Coates: Mississippi controversy highlights need to remove governor from parole process
On his way out the door, Gov. Haley Barbour approved full pardons for nearly 200 people, including 14 convicted murderers, according to documents the Mississippi secretary of state's office released Tuesday.
A Mississippi judge Wednesday evening issued a temporary injunction forbidding the release of any more prisoners pardoned or given clemency by outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour, whose actions created uproar.
The pardons include four convicted murderers and a convicted armed robber who were released Sunday. The five now must contact prison officials on a daily basis as their fate is adjudicated.
The pardons are "a slap in the face to everyone in law enforcement and Gov. Barbour should be ashamed," said state Attorney General Jim Hood.
Oklahoma Legislative Reaction
After a Mississippi judge this week blocked the release of 21 inmates pardoned by former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Oklahoma Sen. Harry Coates on Thursday pointed to the resulting controversy as a textbook example of why Oklahoma should remove the governor from the parole process.
While the Legislature in 2011 approved a measure to remove the governor from the parole process for most nonviolent crimes, Coates has filed a bill to remove the governor completely from the process. Senate Joint Resolution 46 would send the issue to a vote of the people.
“Given the numerous responsibilities of the office, it makes little sense that the governor also be burdened by involvement in the parole process,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “The current controversy in Mississippi highlights the potential drawbacks associated with having a governor in this position. This is a common sense effort to mitigate any such risks by allowing the qualified and experienced members of the Pardon and Parole Board the opportunity to determine the best course of action in each case.”
Coates noted that if his measure was approved, the governor would still exert significant authority over the Pardon and Parole Board, retaining the authority to appoint a majority of its membership.
“Relieving the governor of this responsibility will give our state’s chief executive more time to focus on her agenda for economic development and job growth,” he said.