To find more about all of the state questions on the ballot in November, see our 2012 State Questions page.
Oklahoma is the only state that requires the governor to approve every parole. Removing the governor from the parole process for less serious, non-violent offenses has been a recommendation of multiple major studies of Oklahoma’s criminal justice system, including a 2007 audit by MGT of America, the 2008 final report from the Oklahoma Academy Town Hall, and this year’s Justice Reinvestment initiative.
Last year, Governor Fallin signed a bill into law that would have made this change. However, an attorney general’s opinion determined that it would require a constitutional change. This change was sent to a vote of the people in State Question 762.
Governor Fallin supported SQ 762 until just recently. On October 16, Fallin announced she was reversing her position in a statement which argued: “It appears State Question 762 would define non-violent offenders only by their current offense and would not mandate the consideration of past violent behavior. Since taking office, I have denied parole for 437 offenders, who would be considered ‘non-violent’ under the terms of State Question 762, keeping them off our streets and out of our communities.”
The governor’s rationale for changing her position has major flaws. First, the implication that the parole board does not consider past violent behavior of offenders is false. When offenders come up for parole, the board is provided a “jacket” that details their entire criminal history. They read letters or hear testimony from crime victims, as well as from those who wish to speak on behalf of the offender. The governor does not have access to any information that is denied to the parole board. She relies on the same documents and testimony to approve or reject their decision.
Second, rejecting parole for these offenders is not going to keep them “off our streets.” The vast majority of these offenders will be released at some point, with or without parole. As seen below, a big effect of denying paroles is that more offenders are being released without any supervision.
On the other hand, increasing paroles for lesser offenses will both save taxpayer dollars and improve public safety. Well-managed parole systems have been shown to reduce crime recidivism, since offenders are given supervision and assistance reintegrating into society.
Oklahoma’s district attorneys have been another vocal opponent of SQ 762. For example, district attorneys Greg Mashburn and Tim Harris were quoted claiming it would take the governor out of the process for child pornographers and those who abuse a vulnerable adult in a nursing home. This is not true. The offenses covered by SQ 762 do not include any of the “85-percent crimes” that require an offender to serve at least 85-percent of his or her sentence before being eligible for parole. Paroles for those convicted of child pornography, abuse of a vulnerable adult, and aggravated drug trafficking (defined as possession of large amounts of illegal drugs) will all continue to require approval by the governor if SQ 762 passes. Click here for a full list of the offenses that would not be affected by SQ 762.
District attorneys, who should know better, are spreading falsehoods about what SQ 762 would do. The governor has presented a rationale for changing her position that makes little sense. Both are examples of a tragic pattern in Oklahoma, where sounding “tough on crime” is deemed more important than doing what’s shown to be more cost-effective and better for public safety.