Oklahoma Prisons

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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.

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.

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.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections says a man who escaped from a minimum security state prison in McAlester has been captured.

The department says 40-year-old Jeremiah Hobbs was arrested Monday following a traffic stop 75 miles away from McAlester in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow.

Hobbs disappeared Thursday from the unfenced Jackie Brannon Correctional Center. The corrections department says a woman identified as Hobbs' girlfriend was also arrested during the traffic stop on a warrant for harboring a fugitive.

There’s a national shortage of the drugs used to treat COVID-19 patients in ICU beds, and a group of out-of-state doctors penned a letter asking Oklahoma to share its supply with local hospitals.

It’s unclear how many people could be treated with Oklahoma’s supply, but the state plans to use two of the drugs listed in the doctors’ letter to put prisoners to death.

The drugs were originally designed for medical use. The doctors say they can be used to subdue Covid-19 patients who need to be hooked up to ventilators.

Updated April 13, 7 p.m. 

The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board could speed up the commutation process because of COVID-19.

Executive Director Steven Bickley said during a meeting on Monday they would try to get the turnaround time for commutation applications down to 30 days.

Gov. Kevin Stitt has approved commutations for 452 Oklahoma inmates, with 404 approved to time served and set for release on Thursday.

"We’ve been working diligently with the Pardon and Parole Board to safely reduce the prison population amidst the COVID-19 pandemic,” Stitt said in a statement. "In these unprecedented times, we must take action while safeguarding our Department of Corrections staff, inmate population and the public."

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is up to five agency staff and one inmate who are positive for COVID-19.

Four facility staff members across the state and a probation and parole officer now have the illness; along with an inmate at Jackie Brannon Correctional Center.

DOC's first case of COVID-19 was reported last week, a worker at Joseph Harp Correctional Center.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has ordered all state prisons to secure inmates in their cells to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The DOC said in a news release the step is to protect the health of inmates and staff, not for disciplinary reasons. Inmates will have food and medicine delivered to them. Activities like showering and making phone calls will be done on schedules.

Prison officials called the move "aggressive but necessary."

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Four of five inmates who escaped a minimum security prison in southeast Oklahoma were quickly recaptured while the fifth remained at large Monday, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

Authorities were searching for Christopher G. Coffey, 29, who was serving a total of 12 years for larceny and a prior escape conviction, according to a DOC news release.

The department said the five escaped late Sunday after breaking out a window on the second floor of the Jackie Brannon Correctional Center in McAlester.

An Oklahoma prison worker has tested positive for COVID-19, the first case within the state’s department of corrections.

The DOC said the Joseph Harp Correctional Center staff member has not been at the Lexington facility since March 29, when they began exhibiting symptoms.

The state health department has not recommended other employees or inmates there be isolated or quarantined.

It's well-known that Oklahoma has the highest rate of female incarceration in the US. On this edition of StudioTulsa, we profile Poetic Justice, an important nonprofit that, per its website, aims to "reveal the individuality and experiences of the women who inhabit [our] state's prisons.

On this edition of ST, we learn about Tulsa's Center for Employment Opportunities (or CEO). CEO is a nationwide nonprofit that helps people who've just come out of prison find jobs and/or acquire skills and training. The Tulsa CEO branch opened in 2011; our guest is Adrienne Yandell, who directs the Tulsa outlet. Per the CEO Tulsa website: "CEO guarantees every participant who completes a one-week job-readiness orientation up to four days a week of transitional work on a crew and daily pay -- a critical asset during an important time.

(Note: This installment of ST Medical Monday originally aired last summer.) It's taken a while for this particular truth to sink in, but America finally seems to be waking up to it: People with mental illness don't need to be locked up -- they need to be treated. On this edition of our show, we speak with journalist Alisa Roth, whose book, "Insane," is a well-regarded and alarming exposé of the mental health crisis now facing our courts, jails, and prisons. As was noted  of this book by The New York Times Book Review: "Chilling....

On this edition of StudioTulsa, we're discussing court fees, court fines, collection costs, and other court-related expenses, which, all told, make up somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the budget for the State of Oklahoma's court system. Therefore, and quite regrettably, our state's jails are by now brimming with people whose only "crime" is being unable to pay such costs.

In the immediate wake of Governor Stitt's State of the State Address, and as the 2019 legislative session gets underway in OKC, we welcome back to StudioTulsa our longtime colleague David Blatt, who's been the Executive Director of the non-partisan, non-profit OK Policy think tank since 2010. Blatt chats with us in detail about what lawmakers at the State Capitol might attempt or accomplish regarding education, criminal justice, health, economic opportunity, taxes, and the state's budget.

Our guest is Shane Bauer, a senior reporter for Mother Jones. He joins us to discuss a sobering new book that grew out of his outstanding reporting for that magazine.

(Note: This show originally aired back in February.) "Bobby BlueJacket: The Tribe, The Joint, The Tulsa Underworld" is a well-researched book exploring little-known aspects of American crime, Native American identity, and smalltown politics in the 20th century. It's also an engrossing biography of a real and remarkable person: Bobby BlueJacket, born in 1930, who grew up in Tulsa amid teenage rumbles, mean streets, dangerous pool halls, and Midwest safecracker crews -- and who actually went from being a career thief to a prison journalist to a Eastern Shawnee Indian activist.

It's taken a while for this particular truth to sink in, but America finally seems to be waking up to it: People with mental illness don't need to be locked up -- they need to be treated. On this edition of our show, we speak with journalist Alisa Roth, whose new book, "Insane," is a well-regarded and quite alarming exposé of the mental health crisis now facing our courts, jails, and prisons. As was noted  of this book by The New York Times Book Review: "Chilling.... Roth writes movingly of the human toll of incarceration....

Women are the fastest-growing prison population group in the United States today -- and the State of Oklahoma, tragically, puts women in prison at twice the national rate. On this edition of ST, we check in with the non-profit organization known as Still She Rises, a public defender office based here in our community that's dedicated to representing North Tulsa mothers within the criminal justice system. Still She Rises, which began operations in Tulsa about a year ago, grew out of a similar group in NYC known as The Bronx Defenders.

"Bobby BlueJacket: The Tribe, The Joint, The Tulsa Underworld" is a just-published book exploring little-known aspects of American crime, Native American identity, and smalltown politics in the 20th century. It's also a biography of a real and remarkable person: Bobby BlueJacket, born in 1930, who grew up amid teenage rumbles, mean streets, dangerous pool halls, and Midwest safecracker crews -- and who actually went from being a career thief to a prison journalist to a Eastern Shawnee Indian activist. Our guests on ST today are Michael P. Daley, the author of this new book, and Mr.

Our guest on this edition of StudioTulsa is Stephen Galoob, an Associate Professor of Law here at TU. Prof.

On this edition of ST Medical Monday, we get to know Robin Steinberg, a New York City-based public defender who founded the nonprofit Bronx Defenders in the late 1990s. This organization is still known for its model of "holistic defense," in which clients are advocated for by an interdisciplinary team of professionals (legal and otherwise) who address the underlying causes as well as the collateral consequences of our criminal-justice system. As Steinberg tells us, in January of this year, the Bronx Defenders opened a smaller-scale satellite office in North Tulsa called Still She Rises.

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