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Proposed amendment to lower jail overcrowding, save money

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OKLAHOMA CITY — An idea designed to lower the state’s prison population and ease overcrowding has passed the Oklahoma State House. The proposed constitutional amendment would give voters the final say on whether the governor should be involved in the parole process for nonviolent criminals.

Right now, Oklahoma is the only state in the country that mandates the governor sign off on every single person up for parole.

Supporters believe cutting out that step could save the state millions of dollars but not everyone agrees it’s a good idea.

As it stands now, every time a convicted criminal is eligible for early release from prison, the case is reviewed by the pardon and parole board before the governor gives the final OK.

“This causes a backlog,” State Rep. Sue Tibbs said.

Tibbs says in the past, criminals granted parole often waited several more months before the governor made it official.

Eliminating the governor from the process could save the state $40 million over a decade.

“Why would we have the pardon and parole board if we didn’t let them decide if people should be paroled early,” Tibbs said.

“I don’t know why we need to take the governor out of the process,” State Rep. Mike Reynolds said.

Reynolds opposes the bill for a simple reason.

“We’ve got more important things to do than let criminals out of jail,” Reynolds said.

“I think the process is good as it stands,” State Rep. Mike Ritze said.

Some lawmakers like Ritze also argue the state savings would only jeopardize public safety.

“These types of criminals will cost the state taxpayers more if they’re let out early and are on the streets,” Ritze said.

The State House resolution only applies to nonviolent crimes.

Ultimately the public, not lawmakers, will have the final say.

A similar bill passed the State House last year, but the State Attorney General asked that it be reworked this year to give the public the chance to vote on it.

The soonest that can happen in this November.