Criminal Justice

District Attorney confused about the law?

July 7, 2020

Trent England

Laura Austin Thomas is the District Attorney for Payne and Logan counties. In that position, she is responsible for prosecuting crimes. One might hope she has a basic understanding of the law, but her recent attempt to smear two members of the Pardon and Parole Board suggests otherwise.

Thomas opposes criminal justice reforms that try to reduce prison overcrowding and save money. She has dismissed reform efforts as “a very fun and nice and popular political soundbite.” In May, she launched an attack against Kelly Doyle and Adam Luck, two of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s recent appointees to the Pardon and Parole Board. Her allegation? Doyle and Luck are biased because of their work with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), an organization that provides services to former inmates.

One mistake made by Thomas in her attacks is to repeatedly refer to CEO as a “company” when it is a nonprofit charity. She also implies that somehow Doyle or Luck might benefit if more people get out of prison. First, Luck is simply a board member for CEO—a volunteer who receives no compensation. Doyle is the group’s deputy executive director for Oklahoma and surrounding states. But while workers at nonprofits do get paid, the law prohibits such organizations from having shareholders or any other kind of profit-sharing (that’s what nonprofit means).

Far from being unusual appointments to the Board, state law actually requires that “[a]t least two members of the Pardon and Parole Board shall have five (5) years of training or experience in mental health services, substance abuse services, or social work.” The Legislature made this change in 2018 to ensure that people just like Doyle and Luck are on the Board.

Finally, if Thomas really cares about conflicts of interest in the criminal justice system, as the old saw goes: Physician, heal thyself. It is district attorneys, along with other government agencies, that currently benefit from the broken status quo, as I describe here.