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Parole board continues overhaul of commutation process

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The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board meets Aug. 8, 2022

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board continues to update procedures around lessening sentences for people in prison, saying it’s moving through an overhaul.

Current parole board policy stipulates most any prisoner who wants a commutation can apply, though those who are denied must either wait three years to apply again or get a recommendation from the governor if there hasn’t been a change in penalties for their given crime.

Director Tom Bates said during the board’s regular meeting Monday that putting criteria around the process so board members only consider people who meet certain standards is important.

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Kyle Counts
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Proposed criteria for commutations

“I know there may be some concerns that maybe it limits it too much, and I get that and those are things we can continue to talk about and work through. But again, I think the application of objective criteria to this process, it comes at the docketing phase, not at the board consideration phase,” said Bates.

Board attorney Kyle Counts said part of the overhaul is in response to a grand jury report released in June recommending the board establish eligibility criteria, as well as make dockets smaller and use commutations as a “rare” form of relief.

The same Oklahoma County grand jury report found that Gov. Kevin Stitt acted in a “grossly improper” way when he met with unnamed board members to influence their votes in some cases.

Bates also said he’s looking at updating “all” the board’s other policies and procedures, telling board members if they know an attorney who’d be interested in assisting he’d like to talk.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.