ODOC Ceases Certain Programs Awarding Credits
As of November 1, 2020, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) will cease awarding earned credits for good behavior to inmates outside the class level system. During review of inmate earned credit programs, ODOC’s legal team identified a potential issue with the agency’s authority to award credits under the Good Conduct Achievement Credit Program.
The agency concludes the practice of awarding such credits does not meet ODOC’s definition of a program within its operating procedure. An authorized achievement credit program must have a course of study, curriculum, completion date, and numerous other criteria. Additionally, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office (OAG) has provided preliminary guidance that awarding the credits has no legal basis. ODOC began the program in 2009. “This decision, while difficult, is both correct and necessary,” says ODOC Director Scott Crow. “Regardless of the results, my job is to make the right decisions and to provide transparency through the process, fulfilling my pledge when appointed director last December."
Statute already allows earned credits under the class level system, which provides increasing monthly earned credits for good behavior. One credit equals one day toward a sentence. A committee reviews each inmate’s class level at least every 120 days based on numerous factors, including good conduct, participation in programs, education or work assignments, interactions with staff, and cleanliness. Awarding inmates both the class level credits and the Good Conduct Achievement Credits rewards the same good behavior twice. Approximately 80% of affected inmates will spend an additional 5-6 days in prison per month without the credits. With this, ODOC’s prison population will increase by 3.6% during the next two years before declining slowly over time.
Based upon the predicted legal impact of ceasing good conduct achievement credits, the agency requested guidance from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office (OAG). In mid-October, ODOC received preliminary guidance from the OAG that awarding the credits has no legal basis. Logistically, ceasing this practice at the first of the month provides ODOC staff time to prepare for recalculations, to inform inmates about the changes, and allow them time to contact family. While we are confident ceasing the program is the appropriate and necessary action, ODOC will request a formal opinion by the OAG. Such an opinion serves to address concerns from all stakeholders and holds the full weight of law.
ODOC will also cease two other similar programs, affecting far fewer inmates. At the first of the month, inmates will no longer receive credits for obtaining their birth certificate or social security card nor for their placement on an electronic monitoring system.
ODOC remains committed to maintaining public safety and is working with legislative leaders to explore avenues to appropriately reward good conduct by inmates beyond the current class level system.