Oklahoma Early Release Program Leads to Only Isolated Cases of Recidivism
by Christopher Zoukis
Only two of the nearly 1,500 prisoners granted early release by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) from March to October 2014 have returned to prison, notwithstanding news reports indicating that lawmakers and “several” corrections officials have not been supportive of the releases.
The approximately 1,500 prisoners were granted early release due to the DOC’s renewed application of the Earned Credits program, which allows for the restoration of good behavior credits taken due to misconduct. The program has been on the books for about 20 years but was not widely used until recently.
Terri Watkins, a DOC spokeswoman, said the increased use of the program is part of a series of changes implemented by newly-appointed DOC Director Robert Patton.
While the Department of Corrections appears poised to expand its use of early releases, state Rep. Aaron Stiles said the program was “all about saving money.” He added that “several” corrections employees contacted him with a fear of speaking openly, and said they had made recommendations that “certain [prisoners] not be released, but they get overruled by upper level DOC administration.”
Watkins disagreed that the early release program is all about saving money as Rep. Stiles and other critics have asserted, and said more changes are expected.
Notably, the program does not apply to prisoners who are required to serve a minimum term, such as for “85 percent” crimes like rape, murder and other serious offenses. As for the two former prisoners who were released early and returned to prison, Santajuan Stepney was jailed for assaulting his wife, while Brian Harvey was arrested for joyriding and possession of a stolen car.
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