In The Know: Phasing out private prisons | Virus surging in Latinx community | Emails: Officials sounded alarms prior to Trump rally

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.

New from OK Policy

Reflecting on public service and ‘the highest calling’: Term limits and super-majority approval for raising taxes are relics — I would say mistakes — of the past for which an entire generation in Oklahoma and a few other states has had to pay a price. I suppose the celebration of Rep. Lewis drew me to these thoughts because, in Oklahoma, a new generation of leaders cannot follow “the highest calling of their hearts” and choose to spend their best years “standing up for what they truly believe” through lengthy service as legislators even when their constituents would continue to elect them. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma moves toward phasing out private prisons. What a path forward looks like: As Oklahoma’s incarceration rate soared throughout the 1990s, the private prison industry saw a business opportunity. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has depended on these private prisons to relieve overcrowding in public facilities and house some of the state’s most dangerous offenders. But a recent DOC board decision and prison population trends suggest Oklahoma may not have to rely on private prisons forever. [Oklahoma Watch]

COVID-19: 494 new cases, 1 more death reported in Oklahoma: The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 494 new cases and one more death from COVID-19 on Sunday. As of Sunday, 550 Oklahomans have died of the deadly virus. The total number of state cases is now 38,225 with 30,820 considered recovered. The state’s seven-day rolling average of cases, which has been on an upward trajectory for weeks, declined for the first time since a slight dip in late July — from 1,093 cases on Saturday to 991 on Sunday. [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma’s COVID-19 daily case average doubles in three weeks, but Gov. Stitt calls it a ‘plateau’ in downplaying surge [Tulsa World]
  • Lexington, Oklahoma City lead the state’s COVID-19 hotspots [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Coronavirus surging in Oklahoma City’s Hispanic community [The Oklahoman]
  • Local hospitals stressed by rising coronavirus cases, medical experts say [The Oklahoman]
  • Alaska, Hawaii, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma are among the states witnessing the largest surge of infections over the past week [Washington Post]
  • CDC: Abandon negative COVID-19 test standard [The Journal Record]
  • Contract ends for interim state epidemiologist, Oklahoma health officials say [KOCO]

Ahead of Trump rally, Tulsa officials were sounding alarms, emails show: President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa engendered concern among some local public officials that it would be a virus super-spreader event or flashpoint for riots, according to emails received by the Tulsa Health Department. [Tulsa World

Health News

Advances in treatments reducing COVID-19 deaths, doctors say: Though confirmed cases of coronavirus in Oklahoma rose by more than 22,000 in July, there were fewer deaths last month from COVID-19 than in April, when new cases numbered less than 3,000. [The Oklahoman]

After COVID-19, the nightmares will continue: Long after COVID-19 eventually subsides, the pandemic of 2020 likely will continue to haunt the mental health of Oklahomans and others around the world, experts say. [The Journal Record]

Health commissioner seeks to scrap vaccination education rule: Oklahoma Health Commissioner Lance Frye seeks to roll back a recently approved agency rule that would add another step before parents can opt their school-aged children out of receiving vaccinations. [The Oklahoman]

For Oklahoma seniors, medical marijuana seen as new frontier: Data show more American senior citizens are using more medical marijuana. But some who are trying to do their own research aren’t finding answers they need. [Gaylord News via NonDoc]

OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation welcomes inaugural class of 54: The Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation presented its inaugural class of 54 first-year students with their white coats Friday in Tahlequah, marking the beginning of their journey in the medical profession. [Tahlequah Daily Press

Successful Medicaid expansion campaign cost nearly $5.5 million: The campaign to expand Medicaid through a statewide ballot question spent nearly $5.5 million on the successful effort, dating back to last year, garnering financial support from foundations, state hospitals and many others, according to a report filed with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Day care operators react to release of $9.6 million in COVID-19 relief funds: Gov. Kevin Stitt and the head of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services have announced plans to release $9.6 million in federal funds to help stabilize the state’s child care centers, but some day care operators fear that won’t be enough. [The Oklahoman

Mayor claims harassment by legislator about masks: Yukon’s Mayor Shelli Selby has claimed she is being harassed by a state legislator over her emergency proclamation mandating masks for restaurant and bar workers. Selby said she has felt threatened by Rep. Jay Steagall, R-Yukon. Selby sent a letter to Rep. Charles McCall, Speaker of the House, complaining about the recent position by Steagall, who represents District 43. [Yukon Progress] On Friday, a Yukon police spokesman said a police report has been filed by Selby against Steagall. [Yukon Progress]

Oklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker: Oklahoma City Thunder players took a knee during the national anthem ahead of their game on Saturday, one day after a state representative threatened to reexamine state benefits to the team if they did just that. [The Hill]

Federal Government News

A historic Supreme Court ruling upends courts in Oklahoma: The Supreme Court ruling recognizing the lands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation was hailed as a historic win for tribes and their long struggle for sovereignty. On the ground, it has upended Oklahoma’s justice system, forcing lawyers and police to rewrite the rules of who they can and cannot prosecute inside the newly recognized borders of a reservation that stretches across Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city, and 10 other counties. [New York Times]

‘Just trust me, I’ll make it happen,’ Inhofe tells Trump on stopping base renaming: The New York Times has obtained a recording of a phone call between President Trump and Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe this week in which they discuss keeping the name of at least one Confederate leader on a military base. [Public Radio Tulsa] Trump’s speakerphone conversation with a senator in a Washington restaurant is caught on tape. [New York Times]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma County Jail Trust faces problems during first month managing county jail, many still hopeful: With surging COVID-19 cases, sanitation problems and delays with new vendors, the first month of managing the Oklahoma County jail has been more problematic than Greg Williams anticipated. [The Oklahoman]

Looking into the life of a female OSBI agent: In the past, law enforcement was seen as a job for men, but more women are stepping into the field and showcasing their ability to be in law enforcement. [Stillwater News Press]

Economy & Business News

City assistance sends millions to small businesses hit hard by pandemic: In just three months after being launched, the first phase of allocations from Oklahoma City’s Small Business Continuity Program is being wrapped up and a second phase is being planned with additional money being provided from the federal CARES Act. [The Oklahoman] East Side, Capitol Hill scarce on applications for city small business assistance [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Enrollment shifting online as digital divide lingers: The state’s largest virtual public charter school is seeing hundreds of new students from across the state enrolling each day. So many students enrolled recently that administrators with Epic Public Charter Schools now expect it will become the largest public school district in the entire state when classes resume in September. [CNHI via Tahlequah Daily Press]

Districts face logistical challenges as they prepare for unorthodox return to school: Districts that plan to return to school in person must tackle a host of logistical issues in the next few weeks while also weighing the possibility that a worsening pandemic could jeopardize those plans. [Tulsa World]

  • TPS message to parents: Schools no longer in ‘crisis mode’ [Tulsa World]
  • Sapulpa Public Schools offers students three options to return to school as part of reopening plan [Tulsa World]
  • Mid-Del schools splitting schedule, Yukon to start virtually [The Oklahoman]
  • Masks for Luther Public Schools [Luther Register]
  • Norman Public Schools announces fully virtual start to school year [Norman Transcript]

General News

Gov. Stitt encourages Oklahoma to fill out 2020 Census: Gov. Kevin Stitt is asking every Oklahoman to fill out the 2020 Census. On Friday during a tour of Seminole businesses that were given money from state grant programs the governor highlighted the importance of the census to the state. [NewsOn6]

Op-Ed: Pandemic proves importance of new poll workers: Despite the pandemic and its accompanying social upheaval, in Oklahoma County alone 220 of the folks checking voter names in the precinct registry and handing out ballots were first-timers, according to Toni Culpepper of the Oklahoma County Election Board. [Op-Ed / NonDoc]

City of Tulsa will remove Black Lives Matter street sign: The city of Tulsa has decided to remove a massive “Black Lives Matter″ sign painted on a city street following a request from a group of local Republicans seeking permission to paint a “Back the Blue” sign. [AP News] ‘Black Lives Matter’ message in the Greenwood District of historical significance, community stakeholders say [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Churches offer ‘masks-required’ worship services as option [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman council accepting applications to fill vacancy [The Oklahoman]
  • Tahlequah City Council to vote on facial covering rule [Tahlequah Daily Press]
  • Garfield County elevated to ‘moderate risk’ for COVID-19; July case numbers outpace previous months [Enid News & Eagle]
  • What’s on Enid’s proposed declaration that will be considered Tuesday [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Group seeks Enid City Commissioner’s recall [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Enid Commissioner facing recall after pushing COVID-19 recommendations, calling out police chief [Norman Transcript]
  • Governor, commerce director visit Ada [Ada News]

Quote of the Day

“What we’ve been doing now is talking with families that are directly impacted (by the virus), so we can take the narrative away from the political, and focus on the lives that are being lost in the global pandemic and focus on how our people are having to go to the hospital and they don’t have the resources to pay for those visits.”

-Brenda Lozano, executive director of Dream Action Oklahoma, which seeks to empower the local immigrant community. The group has shifted much of its social justice work into helping Oklahoma City’s Hispanic community survive the pandemic. [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


The percentage of all unarmed Oklahomans who were Black that were killed by the Oklahoma City Police Department from 2013-2019. Overall, Black people were killed at 6.6x the rate of white people.

[Source: Mapping Police Violence]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons: When the pandemic struck, it was instantly obvious what needed to be done: take all actions possible to “flatten the curve.” This was especially urgent in prisons and jails, which are very dense facilities where social distancing is impossible, sanitation is poor, and medical resources are extremely limited. Public health experts warned that the consequences were dire: prisons and jails would become petri dishes where, once inside, COVID-19 would spread rapidly and then boomerang back out to the surrounding communities with greater force than ever before. Advocates were rightly concerned, given the long-standing and systemic racial disparities in arrest, prosecution, and sentencing, that policymakers would be slow to respond to the threat of the virus in prisons and jails when it was disproportionately poor people of color whose lives were on the line. We find that most states have taken very little action, and while some states did more, no state leaders should be content with the steps they’ve taken thus far. [Prison Policy Institute]

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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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