After being convicted of a crime, many offenders go to prison to serve their sentence.
But after a certain amount of time, many of these offenders are eligible for parole. In Oklahoma, parole can be a bit of a tricky process. It’s important to have a lawyer on your team to ensure you can attempt parole when it’s available to you, and that you are successful.
Let’s take a look at what the parole process looks like in Oklahoma, and some of the issues with the process, as well.
What is parole in Oklahoma?
When someone is sentenced for a crime, the sentence almost always includes “with the possibility of parole.”
Parole (more specifically, “discretionary parole”) is conditional freedom. If they pass the parole process, the parolee is released from prison on the condition that they live up to a series of responsibilities. If they don’t, they could wind up back behind bars.
In Oklahoma, someone serving time after a conviction becomes eligible for parole after completing 1/3 of their sentence.
So if they were sentenced to 10 years, they will only be eligible for parole after (roughly) 3 years and 4 months. But if they were sentenced to 30 years, they wouldn’t be eligible for parole until they served 10 years.
It’s also important not to confuse the subject of parole with a few other ways to reduce your sentence, including:
- Probation: Probation is part of the offender’s initial sentence.
- Pardon: A pardon is a decision from a government official to allow a person to be relieved of some or all of the consequences of their conviction.
- Commutation: A commutation can also reduce or eliminate a sentence but does not overturn the actual conviction (unlike a pardon).
How does it work in Oklahoma?
For those convicted of violent offences in Oklahoma, the parole hearing happens in two parts.
- The Report
The Probation and Parole Board reviews a report regarding the following:
- A description of the offense by the District Attorney
- A description of the offense by the offender
- A description of the offense by the victim
- List of any other felony convictions and/or other cases against the offender
- Offender’s substance abuse history and treatment
- Offender’s physical and mental health history and treatment
- Offender’s work performance
- Offender’s risk assessment
- Offender’s disciplinary record (including any violent behavior)
- Potential alternative release programs
- Parole plan
- Recommendation from the investigator of the case
It’s the Probation and Parole Board who will decide whether or not the inmate may proceed to the second stage of the parole proceedings.
- The Hearing
If the Board accepts, the offender’s case will be put on the docket for the following month, during which it will be discussed and decided in the monthly Board meetings.
These meetings are open to the public, and often have the following people in attendance:
- The District Attorney (allowed to speak for 2 minutes)
- Victims and/or their representatives (one person is allowed to speak for 5 minutes)
- Family and friends of the offender
- The offender’s attorney (allowed to speak for 2 minutes, if the offender does not want to speak himself/herself)
It’s particularly important at this stage of the process that the offender has an experienced attorney they can rely on. This 2-minute speech to the Board is potentially the most crucial part of the parole process, and the attorney needs to be able to relay the following information:
- Circumstances of the Crime
- Inmate’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime
- Inmate’s Progress since incarceration for the crime
- That the inmate has a plan for when he is paroled
- That the inmate is not a risk to reoffend
If the Board reaches a majority vote to qualify the offender for parole after 2 or 3 months, the offender’s file will be sent to the Governor’s office. If the Governor does not object to the parole within 30 days, the offender will be released from prison (usually with certain conditions).
There are some exceptions, of course. Whereas most offenders are eligible for parole after completing ⅓ of their sentence, Oklahoma offenders of the following crimes are only eligible after completing 85% of their sentence:
- First or Second Degree Murder
- First Degree Manslaughter
- Shooting with Intent to Kill or Drive-by Shooting
- Assault & Battery With Intent to Kill
- Robbery with Dangerous Weapon
- First Degree Robbery, Rape, Arson, or Burglary
- Child Pornography
- Child Prostitution / Human Trafficking
- Nursing Home Resident Abuse
- And others
Problems with parole in Oklahoma and what we can do about it
Unfortunately, like much of the justice system in the U.S., the parole system is not perfect.
Looking at the past decade or so, the number of inmates granted parole in Oklahoma decreased 77 percent from 2008 to 2017.
On the flip side, parole is actually expensive for the parolees going home. They could be required to pay:
- $40 per month for Department of Correction supervision
- Court fines and fees
- Up to two years’ worth of drug tests
- GPS ankle bracelet
- Any therapy, classes, or treatment the Board requires for their parole conditions
For this reason, despite about 600 inmates becoming parole eligible in Oklahoma every month, only about 200 apply for it.
In 2018, the Oklahoma state legislature passed a parole reform bill that creates an automatic parole process for certain non-violent offenders.
But Oklahoma should also be considering reforms made by states like South Carolina, Missouri, and Louisiana, including:
- Increasing the availability of graduated sanctions (giving more access to drug treatment instead of prison)
- Creating more hardship exemptions for parole fines and fees.
- Limiting the number of days offenders can be held for violating parole (This reform has saved Louisiana taxpayers $17.6 million each year)
Contact Jacqui Ford Law for your parole questions today
If you or someone you love is incarcerated but approaching eligibility for parole, get in touch with Jacqui Ford Law today. Our team knows that people make mistakes, and that good people often end up in bad situations. Let us help you come home. Contact us today to discuss your case.