Oklahoma Voters to Decide on Parole Process Change

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Voters in the state of Oklahoma will soon decide the role of the governor in parole decisions.

State Question 762 asks voters who should sign off on parole decisions in cases involving nonviolent offenders. Currently, Governor Mary Fallin makes those decisions.

But if the proposed measure is approved, it will become the sole responsibility of the parole board.

State House Speaker Kris Steele supports the proposed measure, saying it would increase efficiency in the current criminal justice system.

"We believe that by removing her from the process for only those non-violent, low-risk offenders," Steele said. "We could actually save money and give her more time to focus her attention and resources on violent offenders."

Although Gov. Fallin initially endorsed the measure, she has withdrawn her support.

In a written statement, Gov. Fallin said she supports the "general concept" of the measure, but that recent events have led her to believe now is not the time for her role in the process to be eliminated.

The Oklahoma District Attorneys Association (ODAA) also opposes the measure.

"There may be a time when the questions are answered," said Jeff Smith, the District Attorney in LeFlore County. "When we know - or we're at least, from our viewpoint of public safety - where we're satisfied that there are enough safe guards in place that the governor could be removed from the situation." 

Oklahoma is the only state in the nation where the governor is required to approve all parole decisions, for both violent and non-violent offenders.

State Question 762 only addresses the governor's role in cases involving non-violent offenders. The governor will still have control over cases involving violent offenders.

Currently the parole board makes recommendations for offenders which are then sent to Gov. Fallin for approval. Last year, she granted 18 percent of parole requests and denied more than 50 percent of requests the parole board approved, according to statistics provided by Smith.