In The Know: Oklahoma’s incarceration rate now No. 1 in U.S.

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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

In The News

‘Recipe for disaster’: Oklahoma’s incarceration rate now No. 1 in U.S., study finds: Oklahoma has overtaken Louisiana as the state with the highest incarceration rate in the United States, according to a new study. Taking the top position from Louisiana also makes Oklahoma the global leader in incarceration. State authorities and reforms experts long anticipated Oklahoma taking the position since Louisiana legislators passed reforms in the past 12 to 18 months. Reform efforts undertaken in Oklahoma are expected to only slow the incarceration growth rate in the state and not reduce it, said Kris Steele, chair for Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform. [Tulsa World] Investments in justice reform are a good start, but savings are a long ways away [OKPolicy].

Tulsa County Operates Unconstitutional, ‘Wealth-Based Detention Scheme,’ Federal Lawsuit Claims: Tulsa County’s monetary bail system is unconstitutional because it indefinitely holds poor people behind bars despite a presumption of innocence and inflicts “devastating consequences,” claims a lawsuit seeking class-action status. A national and local civil rights group jointly filed the petition late Wednesday afternoon in Tulsa federal court on behalf of four Tulsa plaintiffs recently booked into the county jail [Tulsa World]. An achievable step towards justice for all: End money bail [OKPolicy].

Latest Lawsuit over Oklahoma County Jail Death Filed: Another lawsuit over an Oklahoma County jail death was filed Wednesday, even as the new sheriff and county commissioners continue to make improvements in the aging 13-story facility. At least three other lawsuits over inmate deaths and one lawsuit over a near death are pending. Sheriff P.D. Taylor said officials have worked really hard to reduce the risk of fatalities at the jail [NewsOK].

After Veto, County Sheriffs Insist the State Still Owes Jails Money for Housing Inmates: Canadian County Sheriff Chris West sits in a dimly lit office decorated with hunting trophies and law enforcement memorabilia. West is visibly frustrated when he says the Oklahoma Department of Corrections owes his county $88,691 for at least two years of jail costs — and he isn’t the only one complaining. The Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association says the state is shortchanging most counties for housing state prison inmates [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Pruitt’s Top Attorney, Sarah Greenwalt, Leaving EPA for Oklahoma State Board: Sarah Greenwalt, who served as Scott Pruitt’s top attorney in both Oklahoma and at the Environmental Protection Agency, has resigned from the EPA and will return to Oklahoma. Greenwalt will leave the agency on Wednesday to serve as general counsel to the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission, the EPA announced Thursday. Greenwalt found herself in an unwanted spotlight earlier this year when she received a 52 percent raise over the objections of the White House [NewsOK].

Lawmakers Developing Compromise Regulations for Medical Cannabis: Oklahomans will decide in three weeks whether to allow medical marijuana, but lawmakers have been working for months behind the scenes to prepare. If State Question 788 passes during the statewide primary election, the Legislature will likely convene quickly to adopt regulations on the new industry. GOP leaders say the laws won’t be an attempt to reverse medical marijuana, but rather to supplement the peoples’ vote with a more stable regulatory framework [NewsOK]. Oklahoma 2018 State Questions and Elections [OKPolicy].

New Emergency Rule Allows Immediate Hemp Planting: Universities who have already been approved for an industrial hemp license can begin planting immediately after the 30-day waiting period was removed by Governor Mary Fallin. Last month, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry began accepting applications for the industrial hemp program [KFOR].

Oil and Gas Industry Flexes Its Financial Muscle in Governor’s Race: The oil and gas industry is playing an early major role in deploying financial resources to try to influence the outcome of the Oklahoma governor’s race. As the debate persists over how much the state should tax oil and gas production, an Oklahoma Watch review of campaign finance reports found oil and gas interest groups and executives have spent heavily in the early months of this year’s gubernatorial campaign. Fifteen candidates are running for the office [Oklahoma Watch].

Running Rich: Candidates in Affluent Districts Build Biggest War Chests: Although many state legislative races within Oklahoma City are relatively quiet, a few races have been drawing heavy campaign donations and a slew of candidates. House Democrats around the city such as Rep. Mickey Dollens and Rep. Collin Walke saw no opposition after campaign filing deadlines arrived. Other House races did draw competitors, but the newcomers raised no money by the end of March, the end of the most recently reported finance filing period. But two Senate races in the western part of the city have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars already [Journal Record].

From Sign Language to Social Work: House District 41’s Contested Primaries: With Rep. John Enns (R-Enid) term limited in 2018, the open House District 41 seat has drawn a slew of contenders from various backgrounds. A police officer, legislative staff member, sign-language professional, health care professional, social worker, veteran and three teachers all seek nomination. With six candidates on the Republican side, this #HotRace features one of the most contested primaries in the state. Democrats also have no shortage of options, with three candidates rounding out the left side of the ballot [NonDoc]. More from the #HotRace series [NonDoc].

GOP Labor Candidates Talk Jobs, Mental Illness, Mistrust: Three Republican labor commissioner candidates agreed on many issues during a GOP primary debate Wednesday night. But each comes from a different background, and their answers to 11 questions revealed slightly separate priorities if elected commissioner of labor. In partnership with Let’s Fix This, Generation Citizen and Women Lead Oklahoma, NonDoc hosted Cathy Costello, Rep. Leslie Osborn (R-Mustang) and Keith Swinton for the debate at the Tower Theater, 20 days ahead of the June 26 GOP primary [NonDoc]. Democratic Commissioner of Labor candidates will debate next Friday [NonDoc].

Hamilton: New Revenue Possibilities Include Low-Hanging Fruit: The light now peeks through the dark clouds of Oklahoma’s long fiscal superstorm. Treasurer Ken Miller reports the state’s May gross collections not only set a record for the month, but also continued a year-plus climb out a quagmire fueled by low oil and gas prices and deep tax cuts. Coupled with the Legislature’s decision to hike taxes for the first time in 28 years – which included funding for the first teacher and state employee pay raises in about a decade – some Oklahomans might be tempted to strike up the band [Arnold Hamilton/Journal Record].

Suicide Rates Climb Substantially Across Country Since 1999 with Oklahoma Among Worst, According to CDC Report: Every state except Nevada experienced a significant increase in suicide rates from 1999 through 2016 with Oklahoma ranking in the top 10 per capita, according to a Centers for Disease Control report released Thursday. Suicide rates climbed more than 30 percent in half the states, and 54 percent of the people who died by suicide didn’t have a known mental-health condition, the report found. Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016 [Tulsa World].

Sovereignty Symposium Examines Murphy Case: With U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments looming, opposing sides in Murphy v. Royal discussed its possible ramifications. The Murphy case dates back to 1999, when Patrick Murphy was convicted of killing George Jacobs. He was tried in state court but appealed his conviction because he’s a Muscogee (Creek) citizen, as was the victim, and the murder occurred in Indian territory. Under the Major Crimes Act, a murder in Indian territory must be tried in federal court [Journal Record].

City Employee Charged with Embezzlement: City of Norman employee Melvin Gene Gore is again facing criminal allegations. Gore, 48, of Newcastle, a Norman Fleet Services supervisor, was charged Tuesday with embezzlement after he allegedly made $1,380 in unauthorized purchases using city funds. According to a Norman police affidavit, on May 7, a Norman Police Department official discovered a billing invoice from GT Distributors Inc., a law enforcement supply vendor. The invoice totaled more than $400 of AR-15 rifle tools that Gore admitted to police he had not received a request from the department to purchase [Norman Transcript].

Feds Announce $45 Million Grant to Replace Crumbling I-44 Bridges in West Tulsa, Accelerate Long-Term Improvements: A $45 million federal grant announced this week will be used to replace bridges on Interstate 44 in west Tulsa. The grant also will accelerate an estimated $350 million project to widen the highway to six lanes and replace the I-44/U.S. 75 interchange. “This was such a pleasant surprise for us to have this opportunity. It’s huge,” Oklahoma Department of Transportation Executive Director Mike Patterson told the Tulsa World [Tulsa World].

April’s Oklahoma Energy Index Climbed, Researchers Say: The Oklahoma Energy Index’s steady climb the past two years continued in April, with improved spot prices for crude oil and natural gas being major factors behind its latest advance. The index, a scale of zero to 300, increased to 212.9, up 1.9 percent compared to March and up 12.2 percent compared to the same time a year ago. But Russell Evans, executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute, tempered Wednesday’s good news somewhat [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“As a result of Defendants’ policies, people too poor to pay for their release are jailed for days, weeks, or months. This automatic pretrial detention of poor people has devastating consequences: people who are arrested lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, endure separation from their children and loved ones, and face pressure to plead guilty as soon as possible because that is often the quickest way to terminate their unlawful confinement.”

-A lawsuit against Tulsa County  filed by local and national civil rights organizations, which alleges that the county’s monetary bail system is unconstitutional because it indefinitely holds poor people behind bars before trial [Tulsa World].

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahoma children enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP health coverage as of March 2018.

[Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Was on the Right Track, Now It’s Being Dismantled: While evidence clearly shows that increased and improved use of contraception is driving the declining rate of pregnancy among 15–19 year olds in the United States, the administration makes no reference in the FOAs to the role that access to health services plays in preventing pregnancy among adolescents. The current round of TPPP projects are required to establish and maintain linkages and referrals for youth-friendly health care services, and to disseminate information about these services to young people and their families. By contrast, future recipients under these FOAs will not have to address the specific needs of young people in accessing sexual and reproductive health services [Health Affairs].

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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