In The Know: Board recommends commuting Julius Jones’ sentence | Mental health in jails, prisons | Business reaction to vaccine mandate

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

Board recommends Julius Jones be taken off death row: Citing “doubts” about the case, the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-1 today to recommend that Gov. Kevin Stitt commute the death sentence of Julius Jones to life in prison with the possibility of parole. [NonDoc] Jones is the first death row inmate to have a commutation case heard by Oklahoma’s Pardon and Parole Board. His case now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt, who will decide whether to commute Jones’ death sentence. [The Frontier] The board, on a vote of 3-1, recommended Jones’ death sentence be reduced and changed to life with the possibility of parole. Parole board members Adam Luck, Larry Morris and Kelly Doyle voted in favor of recommending commutation, while Richard Smothermon voted against. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

COVID-19 compounds backups on mental health therapy wait lists around Tulsa: COVID-19 is backing up more than hospital beds. Therapists have backlogs, too, as people try to cope with the disease’s mental health manifestations or trauma inflicted by the pandemic from loss or quarantine. [Tulsa World]

  • Pier 34 expands mental health treatment for the underserved: [The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Congressman Kevin Hern’s view on health care could find bipartisan support: U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern’s intention to dive deep into health care as a member of the influential Ways and Means Committee comes at a crucial time and has potential for bipartisan support. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

State Government News

Landowners: State Mines Agency Failed to Disclose Potential Conflict of Interest: A group of landowners and residents who have opposed nearby aggregate mines in south central Oklahoma are asking the state Department of Mines to redo several permits where the agency didn’t disclose a hearing officer and an attorney for the mining companies used to be married. [Oklahoma Watch]

Criminal Justice News

Tulsa sheriff says Oklahoma should be ashamed that jails have become mental health facilities: Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado is proud of the mental health programs at his jail, but he wishes he didn’t have them, he said Monday. “It’s going to be nice to hear that a jail is doing these things,” Regalado told an Oklahoma House of Representatives panel. “But when you think about it, a jail is doing these things, and that’s the depressing part of it all.” [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma lawmakers examine correlation of mental health services and law enforcement intervention [KOCO]

Terence Crutcher Foundation urges action on federal policing bill five years after Terence’s death: The Terence Crutcher Foundation has announced a week of community remembrance and action – in both Tulsa and Washington, DC – ahead of the fifth anniversary of Terence’s death. [Black Wall Street Times]

  • This week, five years after Terence’s life was cut short, the foundation named in his honor will hold a series of events aimed at driving toward change and keeping Terence’s legacy alive. [The Oklahoma Eagle]

Economy & Business News

‘Extremely difficult on us’: Federal vaccine mandate creates negative reaction within area business circles: The new federal vaccine requirement announced by President Joe Biden has created mixed reactions among some area business stakeholders, many of whom are not happy about it. [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma public schools, counties and municipalities, meanwhile, continued to grapple Monday with whether the White House’s new COVID-19 requirements governing employers with 100 or more employees applies to them. [CNHI via Ada News]
Public comment, rate case hearing set for additional electric bill increase sought by PSO: A public comment session and a separate rate case hearing are scheduled later this month for an electrical cost increase sought by Public Service Company of Oklahoma. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Two Oklahoma virtual charter school officials resign unexpectedly: Two state officials, who had been scrutinized over connections to Epic Charter Schools, have resigned unexpectedly from the state agency overseeing virtual education programs. Mathew Hamrick and Phyllis Shepherd each tendered their resignation from the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board without notifying the agency of their plans to leave office. The small state agency led by a five-member board oversees six virtual charter schools, the largest of which is Epic. [The Oklahoman]

Bizarre school board meeting deepens conflict in Western Heights: Once again, a Western Heights Board of Education meeting descended into conflict and confusion. Two competing agendas had been posted for the same meeting, one by state-installed Interim Superintendent Monty Guthrie and the other from Board President Robert Everman. [The Oklahoman]

OKCPS tackling dropout rates with close monitoring, intervention: The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education heard a report about the new efforts within the district to closely monitor those students who are getting behind on their credits and taking quick action to help them catch up. [Oklahoma City Free Press]

Court orders Southeastern State University to reinstate transgender professor fired in 2011: An appellate court on Monday ordered Southeastern Oklahoma State University to reinstate with tenure a transgender professor who was fired after an administrator said her “lifestyle” offended him. [Tulsa World]

Ready for another year of Oklahoma education coverage: The past year has reaffirmed the importance of always talking to the stakeholders regarding decisions being made. On the education beat, that means students, teachers and parents, among others. The past year has also reaffirmed the necessity of attending meetings in-person to ensure access and answers —despite the convenience and safety of virtual meetings. [NonDoc]

Editorial: Oklahomans need to change attitudes toward teachers to fix looming workforce crisis: Oklahoma education is standing at the cliff’s edge of a teacher workforce crisis. It’s been three years since any significant salary increases have been given. Oklahoma ranks fourth in teacher compensation out of a surrounding 7-state region and 34th in average teacher salary. But, recent retirees say disrespect, rudeness and lack of support were equal reasons for leaving the classroom. The pandemic and micromanagement over how to deliver lessons only added to the stress. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Woodward event helping Oklahoma families struggling to pay rent, utilities apply for assistance [KFOR]
  • Locust Grove fire chief who died of COVID honored: ‘We lost a guardian today’ [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa County Approves $4M From Federal Virus Relief Funds For OSU Medical Center Expansion [Public Radio Tulsa]

Quote of the Day

“(Jails are) the de facto mental health facilities in Oklahoma, and if that doesn’t cause you embarrassment, shame, all those negative feelings, it should. Because it means we’ve said mental illness means absolutely nothing in the state of Oklahoma.”

-Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

44%

Percentage of people in locally run jails who have been diagnosed with a mental illness [U.S. Department of Justice]

Policy Note

Mental Health: Policies and practices surrounding mental health: U.S. prisons and jails incarcerate a disproportionate amount of people who have a current or past mental health problem, and facilities are not meeting the demand for treatment. Police are also often used to respond to mental health crises, despite their involvement frequently resulting in violence or incarceration. The research linked here expands on mental health policies, practices, and inequities affecting justice-involved people. [Prison Policy Initiative]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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