The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is breaking down, and that’s bad for the state.
Accusations of wrongdoing, bullying tactics and intimidation have been flying back and forth among members and outside groups behind the scenes for months.
That became public at last week’s regular meeting with several heated exchanges, as reported by Barbara Hoberock.
It appears to be about discrediting people embracing the criminal justice reform mandates put forth by the majority of Oklahomans. No evidence of misconduct has been presented.
The infighting is impeding progress expected from the Pardon and Parole Board members.
Voters approved criminal justice reform measures in 2016, starting a movement to keep more people from prison and give more second chances to inmates. This is reflected in laws considered and passed by the Legislature. Gov. Kevin Stitt has championed criminal justice reform as well.
Oklahoma has led the nation in incarceration rates for decades, being No. 1 in female imprisonment for over 30 years. It’s a heavy economic toll bankrupting our state, tearing apart families and creating a ripple of socioeconomic burdens for generations. It is bad for business growth and a stable workforce.
Part of the reforms include how the Pardon and Parole Board does its job. Up until a few months ago, the board was making tremendous strides.
National media last year covered celebratory moments in Oklahoma, including Stitt signing the most commutations in a single day in U.S. history.
The board’s favorable recommendations increased 225% in one year, and the prison population is at its lowest in 15 years.
Executive Director Steven Bickley worked with board members on a decision-making matrix, replacing arbitrary outcomes with a clear rationale for approvals and denials.
Caseloads are moving through more efficiently, the agency is under budget and inmates have hope at re-entering society successfully.
Not all Oklahomans like this new direction, particularly some district attorneys and prosecutors, but we cannot afford to return to the old systems.
Board members need to set aside their squabbles, act professionally and with courtesy to focus on their responsibility of safely reducing the overcrowded prisons.