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Pardon and Parole Board discusses proposal to consolidate agency with Department of Corrections

The Pardon and Parole Board recommends for commutation Oklahoma inmates at the Kate Barnard Correctional Center in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
The Pardon and Parole Board recommends for commutation Oklahoma inmates at the Kate Barnard Correctional Center in Oklahoma City, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

The executive director of the Pardon and Parole Board said Monday he’s optimistic that combining the agency with the Department of Corrections would be done in a way that would enhance the function and the service level of the board.

"I'm an advocate for it," Director Steven Bickley said. "I wrote a strategic options memo early on, and this was my recommendation. The Pardon and Parole Board cannot do its job without the full support of (the Department of Corrections)."

During his State of the State address last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt called on state lawmakers to protect the constitutional mandate for Pardon and Parole Board appointments but to pass legislation that would absorb the remainder of the operations with the Department of Corrections.

"Collaboration is already taking place, thanks to the leadership of (Department of Corrections) Director Scott Crow and (Pardon and Parole Board) Director Steve Bickley," Stitt said. "It is time we make this official in law to prevent future bureaucracy from creeping back in."

The Pardon and Parole Board agency, which has about 25 full-time employees, supports a five-member board that reviews applicants for commutations, pardons and paroles. The board can grant parole for nonviolent offenses and make recommendations to the governor regarding commutations, pardons and paroles for violent offenses.

The Pardon and Parole Board discussed the proposed consolidation during a business meeting Monday in Oklahoma City. The board relies on Department of Corrections data, and consolidating the agencies would allow for greater synergy and better information technology support, Bickley said.

Currently, the deputy director of the Pardon and Parole Board handles administrative tasks like payroll because the agency doesn't have a dedicated financial staff. Combining with the Department of Corrections would allow her to focus that time on other duties, Bickley said.

"The thought that we're an independent agency is a misnomer," Bickley said. "We are structurally independent, but we are operationally dependent on (the Department of Corrections)."

Board Chairman Robert Gilliland said he’s in favor of the change generally speaking, noting that the two agencies work closely together and share data.

"I think it's a good idea based on the governor's wish to have all the agencies take a look and see what combinations would best serve people of the state of Oklahoma," Gilliland said. "I think there's some synergy that could be had by the combination of the two."

However, Gilliland said he thinks the Pardon and Parole Board should make a separate budget request and he doesn't want anyone to have the perception that the Department of Corrections is controlling the Pardon and Parole Board.

"We want to ensure that the board itself remains independent," he said.

Bickley said the Pardon and Parole Board was created constitutionally.

"You guys have done a fabulous job as an independent board, and there's nothing here in this structure that wants to change that," Bickley told board members Monday. "It's really about how do we more efficiently and effectively support you in the exercise of your constitutional duties."

Board member Allen McCall said “it’s all about timing.”

He said he doesn't see any issues with the board maintaining its independence with the current board makeup and with Scott Crow as director of the Department of Corrections.

"In the future, if we have a different director and a different board and so forth, I could see some issues come up, but like I said, the timing is good for that to happen," McCall said. "If that happens this session, I think we can handle it with (Crow.)”

Darla Slipke

Darla Slipke is an enterprise reporter for The Oklahoman. She is a native of Bristol, Conn., and a graduate of the University of Kansas. Slipke worked for newspapers in Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oklahoma, including a previous... Read more ›

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