Friday, April 5, 2013

Parole of Aging Prisoners Act not given committee hearing

elderly inmate

Thursday the chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee said he would hear the measure. House Bill 1056, by Rep. Jeannie McDaniel and Sen. Harry Coates which would have created the Parole of Aging Prisoners Act in an effort to address the costs associated with Oklahoma’s ever increasing aging population and prison overcrowding.

The measure would have authorized the Pardon and Parole Board to parole prisoners who are 65 years of age or older, who have served at least 10 years in prison or 1/3rd of the total term of imprisonment, who pose minimal public safety risks, and who are not incarcerated for an 85% crime. This bill would have excluded for the early release anyone who are subject to the registration requirements of the Sex Offenders Registration Act.

“The legislature is constantly talking about cutting the cost of government but when it comes down to it and we have the opportunity to save taxpayers millions like House Bill 1056 would have done, the bill is killed,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “These are senior citizens who, more than likely, are not a danger to society and yet we continue to spend millions keeping them locked up. I think if the members of the Public Safety Committee would have been allowed to vote they would have supported this great bill. Instead, taxpayers missed a perfect opportunity to save millions.”

According to the Department of Corrections, there are currently approximately 685 prisoners that this bill would have allowed to be considered for parole. It costs an average of $14,940 per year to incarcerate an inmate. This bill could have potentially saved the state more than $10 million per year.

The bill was originally assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, which is known as the committee where bills go to die but Sen. Coates was able to get the measure reassigned to the Public Safety Committee. The Senate Public Safety chairman assured the Senate Rules chairman it would be heard in the Public Safety Committee if reassigned but then Sen. Coates suspects was persuaded to kill the bill by the District Attorney’s Council, which was opposed to the measure.

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