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Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board sets guidelines making more inmates eligible to apply for sentence

Aug 19, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

The new requirements were approved Monday at the board’s monthly business meeting. More nonviolent Oklahoma inmates will be eligible to apply for sentence commutations under revamped eligibility requirements approved Monday by the state Pardon and Parole Board. Now such inmates will be eligible for consideration after serving only three years of a sentence. an Oklahoma City attorney who works with clients seeking commutation, said the board could be inundated with applications from nonviolent offenders who are suddenly eligible. It will especially impact drug offenders, many of whom are serving 10- or 15-year sentences. Inmates serving life without parole, however, will be required to serve large portions of their sentences before reaching eligibility under the new rules. And some violent inmates likely will die of old age before becoming eligible.
They created four classes of inmates and specific eligibility for each:

By Jennifer Palmer | August 17, 2015

The new requirements were approved Monday at the board's monthly business meeting. More nonviolent Oklahoma inmates will be eligible to apply for sentence commutations under revamped eligibility requirements approved Monday by the state Pardon and Parole Board.

Now such inmates will be eligible for consideration after serving only three years of a sentence.

Tony Coleman, an Oklahoma City attorney who works with clients seeking commutation, said the board could be inundated with applications from nonviolent offenders who are suddenly eligible. It will especially impact drug offenders, many of whom are serving 10- or 15-year sentences.

Inmates serving life without parole, however, will be required to serve large portions of their sentences before reaching eligibility under the new rules. And some violent inmates likely will die of old age before becoming eligible.

They created four classes of inmates and specific eligibility for each:

•Nonviolent offenders would be required to first serve 36 months.

•Violent offenders would be required to serve half of 85 percent of their sentence.

•Nonviolent offenders serving life without parole would be required to serve 22 years.

•Violent offenders serving life without parole would be required to serve 38 years.

The board did not address the possibility that certain inmates, such as someone serving 199 years for a violent crime, would never reach eligibility. Half of 85 percent of 199 is nearly 85 years.

Under review

The five board members voted unanimously to approve the changes, pending a review by the state attorney general’s office.

If there are no legal issues, the new eligibility requirements will become procedure.

Review by the attorney general was a stipulation recommended by board member Tom Gillert, a retired judge, who raised concerns during the board’s discussion.

“If they are available to take a look before we approve … that would be prudent to do so,” Gillert said.

Currently, any inmate with 20 years remaining on their sentence can apply for commutation, a form of clemency that is defined by the state as “a matter of grace, mercy, privilege, or favor” and not a right.

The board can recommend shortening an inmate’s sentence to a set number of years, such as reducing a life sentence to 20 years, or can commute to time served.

The governor has the final say on all commutations in Oklahoma.

“The governor’s office asked the Pardon and Parole Board to formally and publicly post rules regarding applications for commutation,” Alex Weintz, a spokesman for the governor, said Monday. “Governor Fallin appreciates them doing so, which has made the process more transparent and open.”

More changes

The board Monday approved two additional ways offenders can seek a commutation if they haven’t served the time required: letters of recommendation from two trial officials, such as a prosecutor and a judge, or by request of the governor.

Some of the inmates whose requests for commutation are pending include a mother of three serving 30 years for enabling child abuse, two men serving life without parole for drug trafficking under the state’s three strikes law and a violent offender serving life for shooting and wounding a man during a robbery when he was a teen.

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