After a Mississippi judge this week blocked the release of 21 inmates pardoned by former Gov. Haley Barbour, Sen. Harry Coates on Thursday pointed to the resulting controversy as a textbook example of why Oklahoma should remove the governor from the parole process. Barbour issued more than 200 pardons just days before leaving office.
Four of those pardoned and released were convicted murderers, all of whom had worked at the governor’s mansion while serving their sentences in minimum security prisons.
While the Legislature in 2011 approved a measure to remove the governor from the parole process for most nonviolent crimes, Coates has filed a bill to remove the governor completely from the process. Senate Joint Resolution 46 would send the issue to a vote of the people.
“Given the numerous responsibilities of the office, it makes little sense that the governor also be burdened by involvement in the parole process,” said Coates, R-Seminole. “The current controversy in Mississippi highlights the potential drawbacks associated with having a governor in this position. This is a common sense effort to mitigate any such risks by allowing the qualified and experienced members of the Pardon and Parole Board the opportunity to determine the best course of action in each case.”
Coates noted that if his measure was approved, the governor would still exert significant authority over the Pardon and Parole Board, retaining the authority to appoint a majority of its membership.
“Relieving the governor of this responsibility will give our state’s chief executive more time to focus on her agenda for economic development and job growth,” he said.