On Monday, the Senate approved Senate Joint Resolution 25, which will allow voters this November to decide whether or not to take the Governor out of the parole process for nonviolent offenses. The resolution, authored by Sen. Josh Brecheen and House Speaker Kris Steele, is supported by the Governor.
“By removing the Governor completely for nonviolent offenses, parolees wouldn’t be forced to wait on the Governor to review their case,” said Brecheen, R-Coalgate. “One day of incarceration costs the state an average of $40 and it takes the Governor an average of 100 days to review paroles, costing taxpayers roughly $4,000 per individual. Removing the Governor from the process would save our state millions of dollars each year and allow her to focus on the job she was elected to do like helping create a balanced budget, attracting jobs to the state and strengthening our economy.”
SJR 25 would amend the state Constitution to give the Board total power to review and decide parole requests for nonviolent offenders. Violent crimes would still be reviewed by the Governor.
In 2007, MGT conducted a performance audit of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. One of the recommendations of that audit was to remove the Governor from the Pardon and Parole process. The study found that removing the Governor from the parole process for nonviolent offenders could save the state over $40 million over a decade or $4 million a year by getting people out of prison sooner. The MGT audit found that, on average, it takes the Governor around 100 days, or just over three months, to review paroles. Being that in 2011 it cost on average just over $40 a day to incarcerate an inmate, that delay costs the state an average of roughly $4,000 per inmate.
The average cost to house an inmate in 2007 was $47. According to DOC, in fiscal year 2008, the Governor approved 1,170 parole requests which, based on the average 100 day delay, may have cost the state up to $5.5 million. The next year, 739 cases were approved for an estimated cost to the state of $3.5 million. Then in FY’10, the Governor approved 463 parole requests costing the state as much as $2 million.
That same year, the Governor denied 119 paroles of nonviolent offenders, previously recommended for parole by the Board, costing the state approximately $1.9 million in continued annual incarceration expenses. As Speaker Steele pointed out, if the Governor had already been removed from the process at that time those individuals would have been paroled as the Board recommended. They would have been returned to society and allowed to provide for their families and become productive citizens rather than remaining in prison at a high cost to tax payers.
“Oklahoma’s parole process is costly, burdensome and ineffective and we believe voters will be happy to fix it,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Getting this constitutional amendment passed is another step in Oklahoma’s ongoing effort to make its criminal justice system more effective so we can increase public safety and produce better outcomes. Freeing up resources that would otherwise be wasted on an inefficient parole process will allow the state to direct more resources to initiatives that actually reduce crime.”
Being a joint resolution that submits a question to the voters, it only had to be approved by both chambers of the legislature in order to go on the ballot. It does not have to be considered or approved by the Governor.
“No other Governor in the country is involved in their state’s pardon and parole process for nonviolent offenses,” said Brecheen. “We’re the last state in America to task our Governor with this responsibility. It’s time we followed the template of the 49 other states and remove her from the process.”