Early Release Credits for Violent Inmates Now Official

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HOMINY – The Oklahoma Board of Corrections unanimously approved Thursday a measure that would allow violent inmates to accrue early-release credits, officially implementing a policy put forth by Gov. Mary Fallin.

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.

However, those serving time for so-called “85 percent crimes” have not been allowed to accrue early-release credits until after serving the 85 percent of their sentence.

In July, Fallin issued a memorandum stating that past interpretations of the law that prevented inmates serving time for 85 percent crimes from receiving early-release credits during that time were incorrect. Oklahoma Watch covered the story.

The memo directed the board to adopt a policy allowing for early-release time to accrue while the inmate serves the 85 percent. Steve Mullins, Fallin’s general counsel, said it would help reduce prison sentence length and save the state around $2.3 million over 18 months.

Around 8,000 prisoners in the Oklahoma prison system are serving time under the 85 percent sentencing law, and Mullins estimated around 6,000 prisoners would be affected by the change.

In other business at Thursday’s meeting, the board approved amendments to two of its private prison contracts, increasing the number of beds available to the state by 222.

The amendments will make 52 additional medium-security beds at Davis Correctional Facility and 70 additional medium-security beds at Cimarron Correctional Facility, both owned by Corrections Corp. of America, available to the Department of Corrections. In addition, the amendments allow for an increase of 22 medium-security and 75 maximum-security beds available to the department at the Geo Group facility in Lawton.

There currently are no maximum-security prisoners at the Lawton facility, said department spokeswoman Terri Watkins, but a new maximum-security unit was recently constructed there.

Use of the newly available beds is dependent on availability of funds, Watkins said.

The increase in private prison bed space is part of a larger effort to address an anticipated increase of 1,2000 inmates over the next year, said Board of Corrections member Mike Roach, who chairs the board’s population and private prisons committee.

In addition to acquiring the new beds, department officials have also installed temporary beds in some facilities, increased the number of inmates who are in programs that facilitate early release, increased the number of halfway house beds available, and begun a pre-reception pilot program with the Oklahoma County Jail.

Thus far, Roach said, the effort has addressed around 70 percent of the expected increase in male prisoners and fully addressed the expected increase in female prisoners.