Oklahoma Prisons

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."

Courtesy

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.

Courtesy

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.

File Photo

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.

A conservative think tank is making the case for a ballot initiative that would do away with repeat offender sentence enhancements for nonviolent crimes.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs found enhancements were applied 80% of the time, despite district attorneys saying they’re used selectively. OCPA Executive Vice President Trent England said people convicted of petty crime or struggling with addiction shouldn’t go to prison for decades.

Oklahoma Group Submits Signatures for Sentencing Question

Jun 2, 2020
Courtesy

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A group seeking to reduce Oklahoma’s high prison incarceration rate delivered more than 260,000 signatures to the state on Monday as part of its effort to get a state question on the ballot.

Volunteers with Yes on 805 delivered the boxes to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office. They need about 178,000 signatures of registered voters to qualify the question for a statewide ballot. The governor will set the date of the election once the signatures have been counted.

The Yes on 805 campaign on Friday presented its case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court in a request to force the Secretary of State’s office to accept signatures to put a sentencing reform state question on the ballot.

The campaign filed a writ of mandamus last week asking the court to require its signatures be accepted in time to place State Question 805 on a 2020 ballot.

Facebook / @OklahomaDOC

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted to recommend special medical parole for 12 inmates determined to be at elevated risk from the coronavirus pandemic.

At a virtual meeting of the board on Wednesday morning, Steven Bickley, the body's executive director, explained how the specific inmates ended up on the docket. 

"The agency received a letter from [Oklahoma Department of Corrections] Director [Scott] Crow on Friday, May 1st, recommending 14 inmates for medical parole," Bickley said. "That is authorized by him under statute."

Oklahoma must give death row prisoners suing the state more information about a new lethal injection protocol released in February.

Judge Stephen Friot of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma ordered officials on Tuesday to give the inmates all available information about execution training by June 5 and to update them as changes are made.

The inmates reopened a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection process after state officials announced the new protocol. Their next filing is due July 6.

State of Oklahoma

An Oklahoma Senate panel advanced on Tuesday the nomination of Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow to hold the job on a permanent basis.

Crow said preparing inmates to successfully re-enter society will be a focus under his leadership. That will build on a transition fair concept proposed by Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt and used before hundreds of inmates were released in a wave of commutations in November to connect them with housing, jobs and other services.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Governor Kevin Stitt’s office said last week 404 inmates with sentences commuted to time served will be getting out of prison Thursday, but that’s not the case.

According the the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, 111 inmates will be released.

Others are serving time for felonies other than drug or property crimes that have since been reduced to misdemeanors, and discharging those other crimes requires more steps from the parole board, not just those Stitt took Friday.

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