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As makeup of parole board shifts, members question policy

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Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board members (left to right) Edward Konieczny, Scott Williams, Larry Morris, and Richard Smothermon on Monday, April 11, 2022

The makeup of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has shifted and its members are more strenuously questioning parole policy.

At the board’s April meeting Monday, members agreed to seek the opinion of Attorney General John O’Connor on the board's role in administrative parole. Administrative parole allows nonviolent offenders who meet a list of criteria related to things like behavior in prison to automatically gain parole without going through a hearing.

Parole board member and former prosecutor Richard Smothermon said he wasn’t happy about having to give a compulsory yes vote to everyone on the administrative docket. He questioned the taking away of the board's ability to make "a fair and impartial examination."

"What happens if we say no?” asked Smothermon.

Smothermon did say no, while the three other voting members said yes to the 65 parolees on April’s administrative parole docket while agreeing to seek O’Connor’s opinion on the constitutionality of the board's role.

According to a House of Representatives fiscal analysis, administrative parole saves Oklahoma $16.7 million a year due to lower incarceration costs.

The questioning comes as the makeup of the parole board shifts. Two nonprofit executives active in criminal justice reform recently resigned from the board. Gov. Kevin Stitt's appointee Adam Luck resigned in January at the governor's request to be replaced by Edward Konieczny.

During the meeting, Konieczny was critical of the administrative parole process. He said the board’s role as a rubber stamp opens it up to litigation.

Konieczny also said there were people on the administrative parole list of concern to district attorneys, but board attorney Kyle Counts said if a district attorney objects to administrative parole, that person is disqualified. Prisoners are also disqualified if a victim objects.

Earlier this month, Kelly Doyle resigned from the board to be replaced by former prosecutor Cathy Stocker. Stocker was present at the meeting but did not participate in voting.