Oklahoma Prisons

Man sues Oklahoma for records as state resumes executions

Oct 13, 2021
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A retired New York attorney is suing the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, saying its claim to have no records pertaining to the drugs it plans to use in upcoming executions “defies belief.”

There’s been a recent uptick in parole revocations in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board had 14 such cases last month.

"In March 2020, after having several months with no revocation hearings, that was the amount of hearings that it took just to get caught up for the previous, I believe, five months, and that's how many we're seeing every month now," General Counsel Kyle Counts told the board on Monday.

A Tulsa state lawmaker’s interim study dug into sentencing reform recommendations from a 22-member council that the authors defended as a needed compromise and reform advocates said didn't go far enough.

Republican Sen. Dave Rader wanted to hear more about the proposal, which would create 14 categories of felonies, each with a range of punishment, a minimum percentage that must be served and enhancements for any prior convictions.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma attorney general’s office has asked the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals to push back execution dates for seven death row inmates based on requirements to give a 35-day notice before any execution.

Attorney General John O’Connor asked the court in a brief filed Friday to schedule John Marion Grant’s execution for Oct. 28 or Nov. 18. Six other executions would be set at three-week intervals to allow for potential clemency hearings, according to The Oklahoman.

Oklahoma Prisons Locked Down After Inmate Attacks

Sep 3, 2021

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The head of Oklahoma's prison system ordered a statewide lockdown Friday after several inmates were injured in what authorities say were gang-related attacks.

Corrections Director Scott Crow ordered the lockdown Friday afternoon and canceled all visitation. Prison system spokesman Justin Wolf said he couldn't release many details because the incidents were still under investigation.

The Department of Corrections said apparent gang-related incidents occurred at six different prisons.

Groups across the political spectrum are urging state lawmakers to let them establish a system to automatically seal Oklahomans’ court and arrest records once they’ve completed their sentences.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on Monday learned what it can do in dozens of cases from December through March that ended in denials because of tie votes.

The typically five-member board was down to four after former Chair Robert Gilliland resigned in mid-December, and around 300 cases ended in ties. Those are considered denials under current policies.

Agency general counsel Kyle Counts told the board the 130 commutation requests that got 2–2 votes have to wait three years under current policies.

Oklahoma Death Row Inmate Fighting Sentence Has Died

Jul 6, 2021
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma death row inmate who was fighting to overturn his death sentence for a 1999 killing in Oklahoma City has died.

Jimmy Dean Harris, 64, died June 29 at a hospital from long-term health problems, The Oklahoman reported.

Harris was sentenced to death for the fatal shooting of his wife’s boss at an Oklahoma City transmission shop. Harris shot and killed Merle Taylor on Sept. 1, 1999, at AAMCO Transmissions, where Harris had gone to confront his wife.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Public safety and corrections officials answered questions Tuesday from Oklahoma lawmakers on the planned closing of William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply.

The plan was hastily announced two weeks ago after the Woodward News learned of it. According to the Department of Corrections, there are currently 414 inmates at the prison, not even 40% of its capacity.

Most Oklahoma Prisons Operating Normally After Lockdown

Jun 7, 2021

SAYRE, Okla. (AP) — Nearly all Oklahoma prisons returned to normal operations on Saturday after a statewide lockdown following a fight at one facility in the western part of the state.

The statewide lockdown had been ordered on Friday after a fight among inmates at the North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre.

One inmate at the prison randomly attacked six others, some of whom were stabbed or cut, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

The six inmates who were attacked received medical care at area hospitals. All the inmates are expected to recover.

Population Reduction Could Help Improve Oklahoma County Jail Conditions

Apr 14, 2021
Oklahoma Watch

When U.S. Department of Justice investigators inspected the Oklahoma County Detention Center in April 2007, they discovered that severe overcrowding was causing significant harm to detainees. 

KWGS News File Photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — State prison inmates in Oklahoma will again be allowed visitors, more than six months after visitations were suspended due to the coronavirus, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced Tuesday.

“Staff and inmate vaccinations offer protection to our facilities and communities and make it possible to resume visitation” starting April 1, according to a statement from DOC director Scott Crow.

Inmate visitation was suspended Sept. 30 in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections says COVID-19 vaccines are beginning to arrive at the state's prisons, but some advocates for the incarcerated say the state's rollout for that population is lacking.

The top item on criminal justice reform advocates’ agenda has stalled as the Oklahoma legislature passed its first major deadline.

Senate Bill 704 would have greatly limited the practice of lengthening prison sentences because of someone’s previous, nonviolent felony convictions. According to Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, enhancements mean Oklahomans end up serving prison sentences 70% longer than the national average for property crimes and 79% longer for drug crimes. 

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An attorney for an Oklahoma death row inmate testified Wednesday that he has found new potential witnesses who might be able to help his client’s case but who would be prevented from testifying by a state law because his client’s appeals have been exhausted. 

Attorney Don Knight, who represents death row inmate Richard Glossip, testified before the House Public Safety Committee during a hearing about the future of the death penalty in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board’s new leader said Monday he’s spent the past few weeks making a plan to tackle a backlog of commutation requests.

Executive Director Tom Bates said he expects there will be some training soon to help sort through around 3,000 applications that have built up as the board has taken up smaller dockets because of concerns about the review process.

"The whole purpose of this is to divide these up into some manageable buckets by objective criteria that allows us to help you as a aboard prioritize these pending applications," Bates said.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Citing continued spread of COVID-19, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said Thursday that visitation is suspended at all state correctional facilities.

"This unfortunate, albeit necessary, action quells a potential source for viral infection and spread," the agency said in a statement.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

In response to growing numbers of both COVID-19 infections and deaths possibly caused by the virus across its prison system, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced Tuesday new measures meant to get outbreaks under control.

"Every time I learn of a new case, it really makes me sick," said Scott Crow, director of the agency, at a press conference with Gov. Kevin Stitt at the Capitol, "because this is extremely important."

"A positive case makes me sick, but an inmate death even makes me sicker," Crow said.

Facebook / Oklahoma Department of Corrections

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections reported Wednesday that a second woman incarcerated at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft has died, possibly of COVID-19.

The agency said Wednesday it was unable to confirm her identity due to medical privacy laws, but family members, inmate advocates and a cosmetology program for incarcerated women identify her as Vernita Watts, 70. Watts' status in the DOC's publicly available inmate database was changed from "ACTIVE" to "INACTIVE" at some point on Wednesday or Thursday.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced Monday another major coronavirus outbreak at one of its facilities, a prison for men in Vinita.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections on Thursday reported the death of a second inmate who tested positive for COVID-19.

The male inmate from Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington was admitted to an Oklahoma City hospital more than a week ago with COVID-19-related symptoms and died on Wednesday, the agency reported. The man’s name was not released.

In a statement, DOC said, "The man had signed a do not resuscitate directive and requested the hospital withdraw all treatment."

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The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, the state's juvenile justice agency, has launched a training program for its staff and outside law enforcement agencies to "improve interaction and outcomes with youth who are minorities."

"We know that our own data shows over-representation of children of color in Oklahoma's juvenile justice system," said the agency's interim executive director, Rachel Holt, in a press release.

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The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said its staff is working hard and touted its achievements over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as more than 1600 inmates have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

"In collaboration with the health department, we have been able to accomplish the unaccomplishable, I believe, from when we first started dealing with the virus," said Millicent Embry-Newton, DOC's Offender Services Director.

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Hundreds more women incarcerated at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft have tested positive for COVID-19 since the state initially reported a major outbreak there last week.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said that, as of noon on Thursday, 721 women had active cases of the disesase caused by the novel coronavirus, with three hospitalized. The facility houses around 900. Eddie Warrior is a minimum-security facility, with open dormitory-style housing units.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

More than 500 people incarcerated at the Eddie Warrior Correctional Facility, a minimum-security women's state prison in Muskogee County, have tested positive for COVID-19, an outbreak causing the Muskogee area's infection data to soar.

File photo

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board is set to ease up on its recent approach to commutations, at least temporarily.

With more than 2,700 pending applications, the agency had scheduled monthly dockets with 425 cases through March 2021, but board members would like to see dockets in the 150-case range for a couple of months after potential issues came to light.

Concerns include district attorney notifications not being made, misconduct reports not coming over from the Department of Corrections and information like past convictions missing from files.

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An initiative petition seeking to end the use of sentence enhancements for repeat, nonviolent offenses is eligible for Oklahoma’s November ballot.

State Question 805 cleared a 10-day period without being challenged. Supporters gathered around 260,000 signatures and had more than 248,000 counted, well in excess of the roughly 178,000 required.

Yes on 805 President Sarah Edwards said Oklahomans in prison for nonviolent offenses serve sentences 70% to 80% longer than prisoners in other states, and enhancements may be a driver of that disparity.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections cancelled visitation at all state prisons over the weekend following an outbreak at the Lexington Correctional Center, where 87 inmates inside one housing unit tested positive in the last 24 hours. All of the inmates reported no symptoms prior to testing and were placed in isolation, the agency said in a press release.

Oklahoma Moving Inmates from Private Prison in Cushing

Jul 18, 2020
OK.gov

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has announced plans to move about 1,400 inmates out of a medium-security private prison in Cushing that has been the site of some of the state’s worst prison violence in recent years.

The decision announced late Thursday is part of a cost-cutting move as a result of a $24 million budget cut, which is about 4.4% of the agency’s annual budget, said DOC spokesman Justin Wolf.

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