Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has appointed minister, international consultant and former prison warden Scott Williams to the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board, a five-member body that hears commutation requests and was recently sued by a local district attorney for alleged conflicts of interest and legal violations.
“He’s a great Oklahoman. I was looking for somebody that had (his qualifications),” Stitt told NonDoc in an interview Tuesday. “He worked in the prison system (…) and he’s been a pastor. I just believe he has the right balanced approach, and that’s kind of what we’re looking for on the Pardon and Parole Board. So I’m excited about him.”
Williams, a former pastor at Life.Church, will fill a position that had been vacant since then-Chairman Robert Gilliland resigned Jan. 11 owing to health issues. Gilliland died Feb. 24. Williams can join the board immediately, and his appointment does not require confirmation by the Oklahoma State Senate.
“I’m truly honored and grateful to be appointed by Gov. Stitt to serve as a member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board,” Williams said in the governor’s press release. “I’ve devoted more than 25 years of my career to the fields of mental health, criminal justice, education, ministry, and leadership consulting, and I have a genuine commitment to leaving a positive impact on the people, systems and organizations that I serve. I am dedicated to upholding the Pardon and Parole Board’s mission through carrying out the fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of Oklahoma by making careful and informed decisions, focusing on public safety, offender accountability, victim rights and efficacious re-entry.”
Williams previously served two terms on the Office of Juvenile Affairs Board of Directors, which included time as chairman. According to a 2017 press release about his reappointment to that board, Williams previously worked as “assistant to the president at the corporate offices” of Avalon Correctional Services, a controversial private prison company that was bought by CoreCivic in 2015 amid allegations and lawsuits about staff misconduct. In 2014, an Avalon halfway house in Tulsa was shut down by the state amid numerous allegations, including one that an administrator organized fights between residents.
Williams’ 2017 bio says he also worked as superintendent of the Avalon Correctional Services juvenile center in Union City, which closed and was transferred back to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in 2006.
Stitt: ‘Scott Williams was the right guy’
Williams has also taught criminal justice, corrections and juvenile justice courses as an adjunct professor at Langston University, and he currently serves on the Evaluation Committee for the OKC Black Justice Fund.
By joining Larry Morris, who was appointed in 2019 by the presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, Williams becomes the second current African American member of the five-person Pardon and Parole Board. The board hears commutation, pardon, parole and clemency requests from individuals incarcerated in a criminal justice system that historically impacts minorities at a disproportionate rate.
Asked whether it’s important for an entity like the Pardon and Parole Board to feature strong minority representation, Stitt said, “I think so.”
“But again, I’m always looking for the very best person to serve on my cabinet with the best business acumen or whatever genre we’re putting them in,” Stitt said. “Scott Williams was the right guy. He happens to be African American. I’m excited about that.”
Stitt is not the only person excited by Williams’ selection. In the governor’s press release, Williams was praised by former state agency directors and Wes Lane, a former Oklahoma County district attorney who founded a Christian discipleship organization called Salt and Light Leadership Training, for which Williams serves on the board.
“Scott Williams is a great choice for the Pardon and Parole Board,” Lane said. “He has a depth of discernment and a unique breadth of experience that will prove a tremendous asset to the difficult work before this board.”
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Stitt comments on Prater allegations
Lane was unexpectedly unseated in 2006 by current Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater. Last week, Prater filed a lawsuit asking an Oklahoma County District Court to issue an injunction preventing the Pardon and Parole Board from hearing commutation requests “until such time as statutory notice mandates are followed.” Prater alleges the board has not been notifying district attorneys within 10 days of receiving a commutation application as required by state law.
Asked about Prater’s allegations, Stitt said he “100 percent” believes the Pardon and Parole Board should follow the notification requirement, but he also criticized Prater.
“A lot of politics going on with the DA, we believe. But I actually called for an investigation on the Pardon and Parole Board to find out what exactly is happening,” Stitt said. “This is something Oklahomans need to understand. I asked [the board], ‘How many (requests) have you reviewed since I’ve been in office?’ They’ve reviewed 16,000 commutations, pardons and paroles, and I think they’ve [recommended] around 1,400 or so. Those come to my desk. It’s a constitutional agency that comes to my desk, and then I have approved, I think, around 95 percent of what has come to my desk.”
Earlier this month, Stitt asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into potential issues at the Pardon and Parole Board after a man whose sentence was recently commuted admitted to the brutal murders of three people in Chickasha.
“If there are any problems with how [the Pardon and Parole Board’s] process is working or there are people who are getting through that were once declined but are coming back up too soon, we want to audit that,” Stitt said. “We believe in transparency.”
Prater also alleges that Stitt’s prior two appointments to the Pardon and Parole Board — Adam Luck and Kelly Doyle — have had conflicts of interest owing to their employment by organizations that provide services for people released from incarceration.
Stitt praised Luck and Doyle and dubbed Prater’s claims as “politics.”
“You know, it’s a hit job on that constitutional Pardon and Parole Board,” Stitt said.
Prater scoffed at Stitt’s statement.
“Political? When am I ever political?” Prater said. “If the Pardon and Parole Board has done nothing wrong, then I guess neither the governor nor any of the Pardon and Parole Board members have anything to be concerned about.”
(Update: This article was updated at 2:52 p.m. Tuesday, March 16, 30 minutes after its publication, to include comment from Prater.)