In The Know: Oklahoma’s largest private prison plagued by gang violence and lockdowns, Stitt inauguration sets spending record, Revenues from state tax hikes exceed expectations

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.

New from OK Policy

New paper series from OK Policy sheds light on Oklahomans left behind by economic recovery: The State of Work in Oklahoma, a new paper series from OK Policy, sheds light on those Oklahomans who have been left behind by the economic recovery. The first paper, which explores the difficulty many Oklahomans encounter finding work, is now available. [OK Policy] Read The State of Work: Finding Work (Part 1 of 3).

In The News

Oklahoma’s largest private prison plagued by gang violence and lockdowns: With 2,682 beds, the sprawling Lawton Correctional Facility is the largest of Oklahoma’s three state-contracted private prisons. It is operated by The Geo Group Inc., a Florida based corporation that trades its shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The Geo Group has a contract with the state of Oklahoma worth an estimated $40 million a year to house prisoners at the Lawton prison. [The FrontierOklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and that means our prisons are severely strained.

Stitt inauguration sets spending record: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s inaugural committee spent more than $2.4 million on January inauguration events to kick off his first term in office. The inaugural committee spent more on his inauguration events — a series of festivities across the state culminating in his inauguration at the state Capitol — than former Gov. Mary Fallin spent on both of her inaugurations combined. [The Oklahoman]

State senator raises new questions about Epic Charter Schools and oversight by Oklahoma State Department of Education: Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said he has tried in vain for nearly three months to find out how Epic could have received millions of dollars in state funding the last two years for 3,000-4,000 students in middle and high school when the school’s own website and assistant superintendent have said the Blended Learning Centers they are enrolled in can only be attended by students in early education and elementary school grades. [Tulsa World] The Legislature made some progress this session in better regulating charter schools.

Revenues from state tax hikes exceed expectations: A year into a measure increasing taxes on motor fuel, oil and gas production and cigarettes, state revenue from the measure increased more than expected. The rate increases were projected to bring in an additional $475 million, but state revenue from the taxes increased by $692.9 million instead. [Journal Record ????Thanks to these revenue increases, next year’s budget will be the largest in state history.

Stakeholders want to standardize Oklahoma wind farm tax valuation: Renewable energy companies and Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore) are set to hold an Aug. 1 meeting at the Oklahoma State Capitol in an attempt to formulate a standardized property tax valuation system for wind farms. School districts and county officials are also expected to participate in the ongoing negotiation process, which seeks to put an end to the disagreements over wind project valuation that routinely cause lawsuits. [NonDoc]

Gov. comments on selection of acting secretary of Land Office: Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday that the Commissioners of the Land Office named A. Brandt Vawter as acting secretary of the office, which was made effective July 1. “I am pleased with the commission’s selection of Mr. Vawter as the acting secretary of the Land Office,” Stitt said. [Norman Transcript]

Requiring schools to teach climate change risks backlash in Oklahoma: Every six years the education department assembles a group of educators from across the state to review and revise state science standards, but state lawmakers have the final say over these education guidelines. Even without the explicit connection between industrial carbon emissions and rising temperatures, some lawmakers still had misgivings about today’s standards when they went before the state legislature in 2014. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Opioid trial could wrap up next week: Closing arguments are expected to begin Monday in Oklahoma’s case blaming consumer products giant Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries for the state’s opioid drug crisis. A court spokesman said Thursday each side will be given two hours to make their arguments before Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Most people aren’t getting recommended HIV screening: A new report warns fewer than 40% of people in the U.S. have been tested for HIV, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone between the ages of 13-64 be screened. The CDC analysis shows most people are not getting the recommended screening, even in areas of higher HIV transmission — including rural Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

State rep seeks safety study of medical marijuana: Concerned about methamphetamine-tainted marijuana, an Arcadia lawmaker wants to hold an interim study at the Capitol later this year to discuss the safety of the state’s year-old medical marijuana program. State Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, said he’s requested the study called “Stopping ‘Reefer Madness’ from harming Oklahoma!” because some Edmond residents have been injured from the tainted marijuana products. [CHNI News]

“It comes back to reefer madness,” Advocates say medical marijuana law over traffic stops invade privacy: Senate Bill 1030 was signed into law in May. Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle was one of the bill authors and told News 4 that it was requested by the Oklahoma Municipal League. It primarily focuses on zoning rules, however there is a provision over traffic stops and what happens if a medical marijuana patient does not have their card on them. [KFOR]

Ranking the strongest Oklahoma earthquakes by county: Oklahoma is well on pace for a fourth straight annual drop in seismicity, despite a May earthquake near Medford with a magnitude 4.5 — tied for the state’s 13th largest ever. But state Seismologist Jake Walter said Oklahoma, particularly the north-central area, still has a high likelihood for a damaging quake in the next several years based on the observed seismicity. [Tulsa World]

More MAPS 4 maybes: Animal shelter, beautification and youth centers proposed: The fourth version of the city’s multimillion-dollar MAPS sales tax issue began to shape its focus on social service and quality-of-life projects with proposals Thursday that included youth centers and an improved animal shelter. [Journal Record] The second in a series of a four meetings covered a lot of ground. [NonDoc]

Tulsa FOP supports Mayor Bynum’s defense of officers against racially biased policing claims: Saying it appreciates Mayor G.T. Bynum for accurately describing an interaction between residents of a Tulsa apartment complex and police that led to allegations of race-based harassment during a City Council meeting, the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police is encouraging the public to refrain from making what the group believes were inappropriate claims against its officers. [Tulsa World]

Expense of OU investigations tops $1.5 million: The University of Oklahoma paid another $489,367 in July to the law firm that conducted a sexual misconduct investigation of former President David Boren, records show. The total paid by OU now exceeds $1.5 million. [The Oklahoman]

‘American Heretics’ Review: Challenging Religious Orthodoxies in Oklahoma: “American Heretics: The Politics of the Gospel” doesn’t break ground cinematically, but it is eye-opening in other ways. This documentary from Jeanine Isabel Butler showcases progressive Christian leaders in Oklahoma whose ideas run counter to the state’s conservative political leanings. [New York Times]

Quote of the Day

“Low unemployment doesn’t always mean that work is easy to come by. Rural Oklahomans, people of color, and the justice-involved are all struggling with barriers to employment including a lack of educational opportunity and discrimination.”

–  Courtney Cullison, OK Policy’s Economic Security Policy Analyst, from a new paper series exploring The State of Work in Oklahoma [OK Policy]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma women sent to prison for non-violent property and drug crimes in FY 2017.


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

One-third of patients struggle with social determinants of health: One-third of patients in the US frequently or occasionally struggle with the social determinants of health, with individuals stressed about providing for their families’ housing, food, transportation, and social support needs, according to a survey from Kaiser Permanente. [Health Analytics]

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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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