In The Know: Okla. penitentiary fades as state shifts inmates to private prisons

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester has seen its inmate population fall to less than half of what it was five years ago, as officials move hundreds of the state’s most dangerous convicts into private prisons. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed the history of private prisons in Oklahoma. Oklahoma Watch spoke to corrections officers about the terrible working conditions, inadequate staffing, and low morale at the prison. The state Medical Examiner’s Office backlog has grown to more than 1,300 cases, with Oklahomans left waiting months or years to find out the reasons for the death of loved ones.

In her first 2 1/2 years in office, Governor Fallin has worked to consolidate power under the governor’s office. Fallin is preparing to become chair of the National Governors Association on August 4. State Superintendent Barresi defended a settlement with a testing contractor that will be paid mostly in extra tests. The okeducationtruths blog argued why the settlement is a disappointment. Urban Tulsa Weekly discussed why Tulsa should rename the Brady District.

 The Number of the Day is how many gallons of gasoline were used in Oklahoma in 2010. In today’s Policy Note, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains why U.S. anti-poverty programs have an impressive record of achievement.

In The News

Okla. penitentiary fades as state shifts inmates to private prisons

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, the oldest prison in the state, has seen its inmate population fall to less than half of what it was five years ago as officials move hundreds of the state’s most dangerous convicts to private prisons. The decline has been so steep that some state lawmakers, corrections guards and others wonder if “Big Mac,” as it is called, will become home to only Death Row and the execution chamber, or if the prison will eventually be closed.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Previously: Punishment and Profits: A brief history of private prisons in Oklahoma from the OK Policy Blog

Low staffing, morale affect prison system

Although the number of inmates at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary has dropped in recent years, the prison still faces some of the same problems afflicting other corrections institutions, state officials and prison officers say. Those include a shortage of staff, low morale, high turnover, funding needs, aging facilities and uncertainty about the future. Oklahoma Watch interviewed seven current or recently employed guards in addition to corrections officials and the director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, asking about working conditions at the penitentiary.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Families of dead suffer as backlog at state Medical Examiner’s Office tops 1,300 cases

Erica Duke was 26 when she was found slumped over a table in her Spiro home in February. Duke died in February, and her body was taken to the state Medical Examiner’s Office for a determination of why she died. Five months went by with no report from the backlogged Medical Examiner’s Office. Ladd and his family didn’t have a clue about what took their daughter and her unborn child. Oklahoma’s Medical Examiner’s Office has been the focus of scrutiny for years from families of the deceased who sometimes wait much longer than the Ladds and the Dukes. Currently, the backlog is 1,352 cases, with 1,180 from this year, 165 from 2012 and seven from 2011, according to Medical Examiner records requested by the World.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Governor Fallin consolidating power in governor’s office

Gov. Mary Fallin, with the assistance of lawmakers and Oklahoma voters, has attained additional gubernatorial power during her first 2½ years in office. And she doesn’t appear to be shying away from attempting to increase her influence. House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said Fallin, a Republican, has succeeded in increasing the limited powers given her office by the state’s constitutional framers. Fallin, who is expected to seek another four-year term in 2014, denies she’s making a power grab. Mostly, she said, she is following through on her 2010 campaign pledge to consolidate agencies and bring efficiency to state government.

Read more from NewsOK.

Gov. Fallin readies to take over National Governors Association

Gov. Mary Fallin will become the first governor from the Sooner State to head a bipartisan organization of the nation’s governors. Fallin on Aug. 4 will become chairman of the National Governors Association, during the group’s summer meeting in Milwaukee. She will be the third woman to serve as chairman, and the first female Republican governor to hold the post. Fallin’s chairmanship offers another rarity. She will be serving at the same time that Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb is chairman of the National Lieutenant Governors Association. Lamb was elected to the one-year term last week during a conference in Oklahoma City.

Read more from NewsOK.

State superintendent defends settlement with testing contractor

State Superintendent Janet Barresi said she is happy with the settlement the state negotiated with testing vendor CTB/McGraw-Hill over the widespread disruptions of online testing in April. Valued at more than $1.2 million, the deal contains roughly $860,000 worth of donated services, leaving a cash settlement of $376,205 for school districts’ financial losses associated with the testing problems. But educators say the cash settlement is weak and doesn’t truly hold McGraw-Hill accountable because it doesn’t cost the company the named value of the ‘in-kind’ services it is to provide.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

See also: About the testing settlement from okeducationtruths

Why we should rename the Brady District

The other day, the Tulsa World released a poll that queried Tulsans about the Brady District naming controversy. In play: a so-far, largely insider war of words goes public — should Tulsa’s rapidly developing, already-renowned downtown art and cultural district be re-branded? The poll’s bottom lines — a majority of Tulsans queried oppose changing the “Brady” label — with huge gaps among black respondents (for the change) and white Tulsans (against the switch) .

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Quote of the Day

I have actually transformed a closet where we house our anthropologist. I actually have her in a closet. There’s literally no place for me to put people.

-Amy Elliott, chief administrative officer for the state Medical Examiner’s Office, which continues to struggle with inadequate funding and out-of-date facilities. The office has a backlog of more than 1,300 cases, with Oklahomans left waiting months or years to find out the reasons for the death of loved ones. (Source:

Number of the Day

1.96 billion

Gallons of gasoline used in Oklahoma in 2010.

Source: U.S. Office of Highway Policy Information

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Anti-poverty programs’ success refutes Rep. Ryan’s claims

Next year, the nation will mark the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, which President Johnson proclaimed in his State of the Union address of January 1964. Sadly, we should expect to hear a drumbeat of attacks claiming that, as President Reagan said long ago, we fought a war on poverty and “poverty won.” Indeed, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said recently of the anti-poverty effort, “We don’t have much to show for it.” The truth is very different. A number of anti-poverty programs — including some key efforts that have their origins in the War on Poverty and some that came later, often the product of bipartisan agreement — have an impressive record of achievement.

Read more from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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