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Less demagoguery sought in debate over Oklahoma's '85 percent' rule

Sep 17, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

A decision by the Oklahoma Board of Corrections will save the state millions of dollars over the long run and may provide for a safer work environment for men and women charged with monitoring prison inmates. In the view of one critic, however, this move will mean certain disaster for Oklahoma.
Gov. Mary Fallin, voted last week to allow inmates convicted of “85 percent” crimes to earn good-behavior credits from the start of their confinement. For many years, these credits weren’t allowed to accrue until the inmate had completed at least 85 percent of the sentence. Consequently, many wind up serving more than 90 percent of their time before being released.
The list of 85 percent crimes has grown through the years, to where it includes a number of violent offenses but also several that are not. First-degree burglary, for example, is an 85 percent crime, because somewhere along the way tough-on-crime lawmakers decided that was merited

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: September 16, 2015

A decision by the Oklahoma Board of Corrections will save the state millions of dollars over the long run and may provide for a safer work environment for men and women charged with monitoring prison inmates. In the view of one critic, however, this move will mean certain disaster for Oklahoma.

Gov. Mary Fallin, voted last week to allow inmates convicted of “85 percent” crimes to earn good-behavior credits from the start of their confinement. For many years, these credits weren't allowed to accrue until the inmate had completed at least 85 percent of the sentence. Consequently, many wind up serving more than 90 percent of their time before being released.

The list of 85 percent crimes has grown through the years, to where it includes a number of violent offenses but also several that are not. First-degree burglary, for example, is an 85 percent crime, because somewhere along the way tough-on-crime lawmakers decided that was merited.

The move to allow credits on entering prison means that on average, these inmates will get out about six months earlier than they would otherwise. This will mean cost savings for the Department of Corrections. And the change should prompt inmates to behave and try to better themselves, which is why the corrections officers' association endorses the idea.

State Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, is buying none of this. A former prosecutor and a vocal critic of this idea when it was presented as legislation the past two years, Biggs issued a news release Friday blasting the plan. His criticism would carry more weight if it were more factual.

Biggs noted that the board met Thursday at the prison in Hominy, “behind a security fence in the style of a backroom meeting.” Yet the corrections board regularly holds its meetings at the state's prisons, and — like those of all state agencies — its meetings are open to the public.

Yet Campbell had done time for robbery and kidnapping, Nolen for cocaine possession, marijuana possession and assault (he shoved a Highway Patrol trooper as she tried to handcuff him). None were 85 percent crimes, and nothing in their past would lead one to believe they would commit such terrible crimes later.

Perhaps most bothersome are Biggs' references to the 85 percent rule change being an early release program. “It's not a matter of whether these early releases will result in more crimes against friends and family, it's a matter of when,” he said Friday.

He may be right that some of those released will re-offend. That's the case with any inmate serving time for any crime. But no one serving time for an 85 percent crime will be let out early. They all must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being released.

And it's important to note, they will be released. This rule change simply reduces by a few months the amount of time 85 percent inmates must wait before that occurs.

Biggs' passion for this issue, and his desire to “stand up and fight for victims,” as he put it last week, are admirable. We only wish he would refrain from demagoguery to try to make his case.

 

http://newsok.com/article/5447079