Aging Prisoners Act refused hearing

Sen. Harry Coates is disappointed one of his bills was not given a hearing Thursday even after the chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee said he would hear the measure.

House Bill 1056, by Rep. Jeannie McDaniel and Sen. Coates, would have created the Parole of Aging Prisoners Act in an effort to address the costs associated with Oklahoma’s ever increasing aging population and prison overcrowding.

“The legislature is constantly talking about cutting the cost of government but when it comes down to it and we have the opportunity to save taxpayers millions like House Bill 1056 would have done, the bill is killed,” said Coates, R-Seminole.  “These are senior citizens who, more than likely, are not a danger to society and yet we continue to spend millions keeping them locked up.  I think if the members of the Public Safety Committee would have been allowed to vote they would have supported this great bill.  Instead, taxpayers missed a perfect opportunity to save millions.”

The measure would have authorized the Pardon and Parole Board to parole prisoners who are 65 years of age or older, who have served at least 10 years in prison or 1/3 of the total term of imprisonment, who pose minimal public safety risks, and who are not incarcerated for an 85% crime.

According to the Department of Corrections, there are currently approximately 685 prisoners that this bill would have allowed to be considered for parole.  It costs an average of $14,940 per year to incarcerate an inmate.  This bill could have potentially saved the state more than $10 million per year.

House author Rep. McDaniel said she was also disappointed the bill was not heard.

“I’m deeply disappointed that the chairman didn’t even allow the committee to have a discussion about this important legislation.  This was a nonpartisan bill that would have helped decrease prison overcrowding, which is currently putting our corrections officers in danger and costs taxpayers millions.  We had a chance to change that this year.  These older prisoners tend to cost the state more than other inmates because they have special needs that other prisoners don’t have and their healthcare costs are higher,” said McDaniel, D-Tulsa.

“Hopefully, the legislature will get serious about changing the corrections system next year and stop just talking about prison reform and actually do something about these problems,” McDaniel added.

The bill was originally assigned to the Senate Rules Committee, which is known as the committee where bills go to die but Sen. Coates was able to get the measure reassigned to the Public Safety Committee.  The Senate Public Safety chairman assured the Senate Rules chairman it would be heard in the Public Safety Committee if reassigned but then Sen. Coates suspects was persuaded to kill the bill by the District Attorney’s Council, which was opposed to the measure.