Governor Pushes for Earlier Release of Inmates

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With the transfer of state inmates from jails, the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown is now 131 percent, or 156 inmates, over capacity.

Gov. Mary Fallin is pushing the Oklahoma Board of Corrections to loosen its policies governing when most prisoners serving time for “85 percent crimes” can be awarded early-release credits.

Murders, rapists and others convicted of violent crimes would be eligible for the credits. However, because of existing law, any change made by the corrections board would not affect those convicted of drug or human trafficking crimes, said Steve Mullins, Fallin’s general counsel.

The corrections board must approve the proposal.


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Under state law, 22 crimes require that offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before being released. Crimes such as first-degree murder, rape and lewd molestation are considered 85-percent crimes, but the list also includes aggravated drug trafficking, first-degree burglary and some forms of assault and battery.

Currently, under corrections policy, prisoners serving time for such crimes must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before they are eligible to receive early-release credits.

On Monday, Fallin’s office issued a memo urging the corrections board to change Department of Corrections policy to allow most of those offenders to accrue early-release credits prior to serving 85 percent of their sentence. They would not be eligible for release until after serving the 85 percent.

“It is clear that the current one-size-fits-all policy of the Department of Corrections does not correctly reflect the law of Oklahoma,” the memo states.

More than 8,000 prisoners in the Oklahoma prison system fall under the 85 percent sentencing law. Should the board decide to amend the policy, around 6,000 prisoners could be affected, Mullins said.

The move could save the state around $2.3 million over 18 months, Mullins said.

The governor’s memo says early-release credits will not be extended to drug traffickers before they serve 85 percent of their sentence because that prohibition was written in to the Trafficking in Illegal Drugs Act in 2007. A similar provision for human traffickers was added in 2014.

Allowing prisoners to receive early release credits not only will help lower the prison population, but provide inmates with an incentive to abide by prison rules and policies, Mullins said.

“It’s perceived to be an advantage for correctional officers and creates a safer work environment for them,” Mullins said.

Allowing those prisoners to accrue early-release credits prior to serving 85 percent of their time was one of the recommendations of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in 2012, a series of reforms aimed at lowering the state’s high incarceration rates.

This legislative session, two bills that would have allowed for inmates convicted of 85-percent crimes to accrue early-release credits were scuttled. The bill, authored by state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, passed the House but died in the Senate. A similar Senate bill also died in the Senate.


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