OKLAHOMA CITY — A new plan to start giving inmates a reason for parole denials is being heralded as a major step forward in the state’s continued bid for criminal justice reform.
In a series of tweets, Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board member Adam Luck said the board will begin voluntarily providing reasons for parole denial starting this month. Previously, inmates received no feedback on why their parole was denied or what they could do to improve their future chances, he said.
“This national best practice will give individuals more clarity for these decisions and possible steps toward improvement if their parole is denied,” he said.
Board members will select their denial from five areas:
— Aggravating factors of the original crime, including parole protests;
— Disruptive prison behavior;
— Failure to engage in recommended programming;
— Inmate needs to spend more time without misconducts or increasing programming efforts; and
— Continued risk to public.
Luck said the classifications also will help the board remain consistent when it reconsiders parole requests in future years.
“Providing this feedback will help incentivize positive behavior and program participation if individuals know these factors can actually make a difference in our decision-making process,” he said.
Providing reasons for denials is considered one of the top recommended parole practices nationally, said Damion Shade, a criminal justice policy analyst with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. But he said Oklahoma has been slow to adopt best practices in a lot of areas, including corrections.
Oklahoma currently has the highest incarceration rate in the United States.
“I think this should have been mandated practice for quite some time,” he said. “This is definitely a positive thing to me. Being able to set those metrics is a good way to be able to change the culture inside our prisons.”
Shade said if people are denied parole, they should have some sense about why.
He said there’s much more incentive to do the work necessary behind bars if inmates understand that it can accelerate their chances for early release.
“Hopefully, it should help deal with disruptive institutional behavior,” he said. “If they’re aware these particular (prison) misconducts are the types of things that will not allow you to get parole, that provides much more incentive (to improve behavior).”
Bobby Cleveland, executive director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, said he believes the new policy will improve transparency, which will be good for correctional employees. His group has more than 1,000 members.
“I think anything that’s good for inmates is good for correctional officers,” he said. “The inmate will have a better attitude. It kind of trickles down.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.