Senator urges parole process reform

Sen. Constance Johnson on Thursday testified before a Oklahoma House Interim Study Committee on removing the Governor from the parole process to reduce prison overcrowding.  She also provided information on the status of the Second Chance Act, which was recently approved with broad bipartisan support by the U.S. House.

The Second Chance Act would authorize $55 million in block grants to assist states in successful offender re-socialization, transition and return to civil society.

“Under the Second Chance Act, Oklahoma is uniquely positioned to begin addressing the problem of a perpetually over-crowded and economically unsustainable prison population,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma City. 

“The Act received veto-proof passage in the U.S. House, and is expected to receive the same level of bipartisan support from the U.S. Senate.”

In her remarks, Sen. Johnson described a system in which the Governor’s role in the parole process would be shared with faith and community-based organizations.
“Such a process could allow for inclusion of accountability and other concerns that have been expressed in opposition to removing the Governor from the parole process,” Johnson said. 
Johnson said a new parole process could include the following provisions:
·   Legislative creation of a professional parole board,
·   Revision and updating of policies requiring mandatory parole supervision,
·   Empowerment and funding of faith and community based service organizations,
·   Requirement of parole planning, involving families and communities, upon an offenders entry into the Department of Corrections,
·   Development of mechanisms to allow community input and consensus prior to an offender’s return.
“This process would correspond with the congressional intent reflected in the Second Chance Act,” Johnson said.  “In our politically popular “tough on crime” environment, nearly 80 percent of those currently incarcerated are people who are mentally ill or drug offenders.  By removing the Governor from the parole process, Oklahoma has an opportunity to develop a properly structured process for forgiveness.”
Johnson noted that the state of Oklahoma currently incarcerates more women per capita than any other state, and is the third highest incarcerator of both men and women per capita.  Since 1986, the Department of Corrections (DOC) budget has grown 250 percent, more than twice the rate of increase for education spending.  
Oklahoma is the only state in which the Governor must sign all paroles before an inmate may be released.