- Associated Press - Monday, July 6, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is misinterpreting state law by prohibiting thousands of inmates from qualifying for earned credits that could allow them to be released from prison earlier, Gov. Mary Fallin wrote in an executive memorandum publicly released on Monday.

Fallin directs the Oklahoma Board of Corrections to “immediately amend its earned credit policy” as it relates to inmates convicted of certain crimes that require them to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence.

“It is clear that the current one-size-fits-all policy of the Department of Corrections does not correctly reflect the law of Oklahoma,” Fallin wrote.

There are nearly two dozen so-called “85-percent crimes,” including murder, robbery, rape, shooting, poisoning or assault with intent to kill, drug trafficking and certain crimes against children. Under current policy, inmates who are convicted of these crimes are not eligible to begin earning credits for early release until after they serve 85 percent of their sentence. As a result, most are typically not eligible for release until they’ve served 90 percent or more of their sentence, said Steve Mullins, Fallin’s general counsel.

But Mullins says state law only requires that these inmates serve 85 percent of their sentence, and that with the exception of only a couple of crimes for which early accumulation of credits is specifically prohibited, prisoners should be able to accumulate credits throughout their sentence.

Of the more than 8,000 inmates currently serving sentences for 85-percent crimes, Mullins said the change would affect about 6,000 inmates and result in savings of about $2.3 million in the first 18 months.

But many oppose the move, including Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who said he’s concerned many of these criminals will be released into communities with no requirement that they be supervised.

“It appears this will allow Oklahoma’s most violent offenders to discharge immediately without determination by the Pardon and Parole Board as to whether or not they are a risk to public safety and without community supervision,” Prater said.

Mullins acknowledged the executive order does not address supervision, but said in most cases there would only be a difference of a few months when inmates are released.

“There’s no statistical evidence that shows those few months are changing behaviors, ultimately, as people are getting out,” Mullins says.

The change in policy was recommended by a task force looking at ways to curb the explosive growth in the state’s prison population and has been strongly endorsed by the association that represents prison guards.

Without the opportunity to earn credits for good behavior, inmates have no incentive to further their education, receive counseling services or behave in prison, said Sean Wallace, director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals.

“There’s just no incentive for them to do any of that stuff, and so they don’t. And we think that’s a problem,” Wallace said. “We’re totally in favor of it.”


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