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Parole Board Meets Amid Controversy, Victims Call For More Transparency
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board met for the first time since concerns were raised about potential criminal violations of the open meetings act by the board. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater says he is still investigating, but is encouraged by board members who say they are committed to making the parole process more transparent. "I know they want to make sure this is a more transparent process," Prater said.
Prater says the board did remove an agenda item that could be criminally vague and removed an inmate from consideration for early release as part of a review on the board's processes and procedures. However Prater says he was surprised to learn board members say they were caught off-guard when he sent a letter to them announce his findings of potential violations of the open meetings act. "I think what concerned me the most was that even though the governor's office and the director of pardon and parole knew about this on July the 19th, they were not notified until my letter came out that's astounding to me and unfair to them," Prater told a crowd of reporters.
The governor's office says Prater did call in July, but they were unaware of any allegations of open meeting violations. In a statement to Fox 25, Pardon and Parole director Terry Jenks says board members were notified after Prater raised his initial concerns. However at the meeting today, board members told Prater they were not told by anyone. Board member Currie Ballard told reporters he couldn't comment on the case, but did characterize the incident as a miscommunication. "That's what we're looking into internally to make sure a mishap like that doesn't ever occur," Ballard said.
The fight for more transparency comes as a relief to the families of crime victims. "I just feel like families need to have more advanced notice on what is going on," Delicia Hurst-Crouse told Fox 25. Hurst-Crouse is the sister of Jerry Don Hurst. He was poisoned during his senior year of high school by a friend Danny Turner. Turner stole potassium cyanide from the school science department and gave it to Hurst. That was 21 years ago, but since the crime happened before the 85% sentencing law he's been eligible for parole for the past decade. "We've never had a chance to heal because we've had to go through this parole hearing every two or three years and it rehashes all the pain and you have to write letters about how it affected you and it's just a cycle," Hurst-Crouse said.
The Hurst family says this is the first time they've had to testify to keep Turner in jail. They've been keeping up-to-date on the controversy surrounding the board. They say the lack of transparency has caused their family pain in the past. The board released a second person convicted of Hurst's murder, Quincy Scott, in 2010. "It's really devastating, actually when Mr. Scott got out in March, we didn't have any notification until after he was already out," Hurst-Crouse said following her emotional testimony to board members.
The Hurst case is not affected by the board's current moratorium on considering early release for those convicted of violent crimes. Prater says the board should change current procedures so it makes it easier for the public and victims to know what is happening in the parole process. He says while the board does have the power to commute sentences for those ineligible for parole the procedure it is following is inappropriate. ""I think what they are doing is doing something indirectly they can't do directly and when they place someone on a parole docket, they're not placing them on the commutation docket so there again the public doesn't have appropriate notice to what's going on behind the scenes." Prater says a ruling by the attorney general will help clarify the board's ability to consider commutations. "If they're going through the same process and calling it a commutation then how is a commutation different than a parole?" Prater said "Commutations ought to be relatively rare."
Posted: Tuesday, August 14 2012, 09:25 PM CDT
IN OKLAHOMA NEWS
Major accomplishments of 2013 Oklahoma Legislature
May 24, 2013 23:22 GMT
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Major items passed by the Oklahoma Legislature, which was working Friday to wrap up its 2013 session:
-- Tax Cut: Lawmakers adopted legislation that reduces the state's top income rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2015, with a second cut to 4.85 percent set for 2016 if state revenues continue to rise. The measure has been signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin.
-- State Capitol Improvements: The tax cut bill also diverts $120 million in income tax revenue over the next two years to a fund that will finance improvements and repairs to the State Capitol building. Built between 1914 and 1917, yellow barricades now ring the building's south plaza to keep pedestrians from walking beneath pieces of a limestone facade that has crumbled from the building.
-- Budget Bill: The Legislature adopted a $7.1 billion general appropriations bill to fund state government for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The bill increases spending by nearly $270 million over the current year's budget, with funding growth focused mostly on education, health care and human services.
-- Worker's Compensation: Fallin signed legislation to overhaul the state's workers' compensation system. The measure changes Oklahoma's current court-based system to an administrative structure. Supporters say the change will dramatically reduce workers' compensation costs to businesses.
-- CompSource: Lawmakers also passed a measure that converts the nonprofit CompSource Oklahoma into an independent mutual company that will be known as CompSource Mutual Insurance Company. The agency writes about one-third of Oklahoma's workers' compensation policies.
-- Rainy Day Appropriation: Within days of devastating tornadoes that struck Moore, Shawnee and other areas, lawmakers approved using $45 million from the state's constitutional reserve fund to help communities recover from the damage. Among other things, the money will help pay for repairs to local infrastructure damaged by the tornadoes and the overtime costs of first responders. A total of 24 people, including 10 children, died in the Moore tornado and two other people were killed in the Shawnee tornado.
-- Pension Changes: Lawmakers passed legislation to reduce the unfunded liability of Oklahoma's pension system for firefighters. The bill requires new firefighters to be at least 50 years old and have worked for 22 years, instead of the current 20 years, to be eligible for benefits. New firefighters also would not become vested until they had worked for 11 years, instead of the current 10 years. The bill also increases the amount that firefighters, municipalities and the state pay into the system each year.
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