In The Know: Virus in our prisons is moral emergency | State looking at hazard pay for prison staff | State helpline inundated

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

COVID-19 in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency: The COVID-19 virus has ravaged jails and prisons across the United States. As of Sept. 15, at least 125,000 people in prisons have tested positive for the virus. Prisoners testing positive in Florida, California, Arkansas, and Oklahoma have driven a second peak in prison outbreaks. This crisis will escalate without further action. Oklahoma’s prison population is older and struggling with greater underlying health conditions than the average American prison population. The COVID-19 crisis in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency requiring urgent action to better protect vulnerable inmates, staff, and surrounding communities. [Damion Shade / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

State examining hazard pay for corrections employees following staff deaths at Oklahoma prisons: Following reports of the first COVID-related deaths of Oklahoma Department of Corrections employees, the governor’s office told The Frontier on Friday officials are discussing hazard pay and expect to have initial plans rolled out “soon.” Damion Shade, a criminal justice policy analysis with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said the agency also needs to develop a plan to regularly offer testing to correctional staff. [The Frontier]

  • Prison infections push rural towns into weekly coronavirus hotspots [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Positive cases in Woodward County now at 572 with most coming from William S. Key Correctional Center at Fort Supply [Woodward News]
  • COVID-19 cases skyrocket past 400 in Fort Supply; state sees gain of 1,003, with 12 in Garfield County [Enid News & Eagle]
  • State reports death of 2nd woman at Taft prison with massive COVID outbreak [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • ‘Get back to some kind of normalcy’: New alert map for Tulsa responds to timeliness, discrepancy woes [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma reports more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases [AP News] | [Tulsa World]

State’s helpline inundated with desperate calls: Calls to a state helpline from people worried about things like lost jobs or spiraling drinking or drug use more than doubled from March 1 to Aug. 31 as compared to the same time frame in 2019, records reflect. Follow-up calls and direct interventions in cases of people expressing severe depression or even thoughts of suicide also rose dramatically, according to Danielle Harris-Cummings, who oversees Oklahoma’s 211 Heartline program. [The Journal Record]

Census director: 92% of Oklahomans counted with deadline approaching: With the Sept. 30 deadline to complete the U.S. Census rapidly approaching, more than 92% of Oklahomans have been counted. The U.S. Census Bureau is also giving Oklahoma additional manpower to help count residents before the end of the month, a federal official said Friday. Oklahoma will get 130 additional enumerators, or Census employees who go door-to-door, on top of the 2,100 enumerators currently in the field, U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said. [The Oklahoman] Director Steven Dillingham stopped by a census event outside the Oklahoma Capitol where people could drive by and pick up census forms ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline. [AP News]

Health News

State leaders start distributing antiviral drug: State leaders have started distributing a promising COVID-19 treatment drug to hospitals across the state. Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday the state received 810 vials of the antiviral drug remdesivir from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He said the state expects to receive another 300 vials next week. [CNHI via Claremore Daily Progress]

Amid COVID-19 battle, Oklahoma health officials urge flu prevention: Just as Oklahoma’s coronavirus cases begin to see a new surge, the state’s annual flu season poses a new threat. Dr. Mousumi Som, an internal medicine specialist and professor at OSU Medicine, spoke about the overlap during a press conference with Gov. Kevin Stitt last week. [KOSU]

Leading the fight: As the pandemic reaches Oklahoma, OSU battles the virus with an array of responses: On the forefront of Oklahoma’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was Oklahoma State University, leading from the governor’s office and offering an increased testing capacity to diagnose patients, protect health care workers and create an accurate picture of the spread of the virus. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Former Stitt adviser Tom Bates takes reins at Pardon and Parole Board: Tom Bates hit the ground running during his first week as the new Pardon and Parole Board executive director. He was recently hired to replace Steve Bickley, who resigned in August after claiming that a board member threatened him for doing his job. [Tulsa World]

Capitol Insider: Governor pushes back against Coronavirus Task Force: Coronavirus again dominated news coming out of Oklahoma’s state capitol, as Governor Kevin Stitt pointed to positive trends in the state and questioned data being used by the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force. [KGOU]

Interim study on COVID-related employment issues offers policy recommendations for next crisis: Unemployment issues aside, the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for thousands of Oklahomans. People have lost jobs that supported their families and are unable to find anything that pays more than half their former salary. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Senate committee hears diabetes recommendations: The Oklahoma Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee was presented recommendations on state-based solutions for improving health outcomes for individuals with diabetes and lowering costs to patients and the state. [The Journal Record]

Senators David, Thompson study law enforcement training and mental health needs: The Senate Public Safety Committee heard from law enforcement officials, Career Tech representatives and mental health experts Thursday about modernizing training for Oklahoma’s law enforcement officers and their mental health needs. The study was requested by Majority Floor Leader, Sen. Kim David, R-Porter, and Appropriations Chairman, Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah. [Ponca City Now]

Non-meat food producers have beef with new Oklahoma law: Plant-based food producers are asking a federal judge to protect them from a new state law that imposes fines and jail time for selling alternative meat products in Oklahoma. [CNHI via Tahlequah Daily Press]

Despite improvements, Oklahoma is miles from completing upgrade of roads and bridges: Oklahoma has greatly improved its roads and bridges over the past decade and a half, but still has a long way to go — literally and figuratively — especially on the 83,000 miles and 13,600 bridges maintained by the state’s 77 county governments. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma senators note Ginsburg passing, mum on voting for replacement: Oklahoma Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford issued statements on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, but did not say whether they would oppose voting on a replacement in a presidential election year, as they both did in 2016. [The Oklahoman]

Mullin joins dozens of co-sponsors on bill to overhaul military sexual assault investigations: Oklahoma Republican U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin is among dozens of co-sponsors of a bill to change how the military handles reports of sexual assault and harassment. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Criminal Justice News

Verdict: Judge Kendra Coleman removed from office: The state Court on the Judiciary trial panel has ordered suspended first-term Oklahoma County District Judge Kendra Coleman removed from the bench, finding she committed “oppression in office” and violated multiple rules of conduct governing state court judges. [NonDoc] It was the first time in 18 years that the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary has removed a judge from office for misconduct. [The Oklahoman]

Eight Oklahoma judges up for retention: Oklahomans have several decisions to make come the November election, including whether to retain eight judges in the state’s judicial system. Three Oklahoma Supreme Court seats, two Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals seats, and three Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals seats are up for retention election Nov. 3. In a retention election, the judges do not face an opponent. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Education News

Oklahoma’s teacher of the year pleaded for patience in return to school. She was booed: One after another, parents told the Deer Creek school board during a meeting Monday evening they wanted their children back in school five days a week as quickly as possible. Digital learning had caused grades to slip, social skills were being neglected and the COVID-19 risk to students was minimal, parents claimed. [The Frontier]

‘It feels impossible’: International students recount difficult road back to OU: International students fought through U.S. policy changes, visa delays and international chaos amid a pandemic to return to OU, where 1,701 foreign nationals attended in fall 2019, representing 131 countries. [The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed, Here’s what I consider when thinking about sending kids back into classrooms: As of this writing, it looks as though Tulsa Public Schools may be the last district standing in the effort to lessen community spread of COVID-19 through distance learning. I know that Tulsans are wondering why our district isn’t bringing our kids back to classrooms when distance learning has been so challenging. As a mother of four Tulsa Public Schools students, I can personally attest to the difficulty of managing learning with my children. [Tulsa Public School Board Member Suzanne Schreiber Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

General News

Letter promoting voter registration causes some confusion: A mass mailing intended to boost voter registration has instead confused many of the form letter’s recipients, state election officials and the Tulsa nonprofit organization responsible say. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Marijuana sales tax revenues grow greener in OKC [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma opens first diverging diamond highway interchange in Elk City [The Oklahoman]
  • COVID comes to OKC City Hall – top staff test positive [OKC Free Press]
  • Tulsa Public Shools addresses potential bond packages for 2021 [Tulsa World]
  • Citizen scientists invited to start monitoring Arkansas River through Tulsa area [Tulsa World]
  • Marker installed outside Vernon AME Church is first element of Black Wall Street memorial project [Tulsa World]
  • The Oklahoma Eagle Editorial: Inactive barriers, Tulsa crime orientation and Eddie Warrior Correctional [Editorial / The Oklahoma Eagle]
  • Norman City Council set to vote on interim replacement [The Oklahoman]
  • Budget, CARES act funding again on Woodward County commission agenda [Woodward News]

Quote of the Day

“Whatever is in those buildings, whatever is happening to the individuals and our fellow Oklahomans that are incarcerated, it’s coming back into our communities on a daily basis as these guards enter and exit those facilities.”

-Damion Shade, Criminal Justice Policy Analyst for OK Policy, speaking about the virus spread in prisons [The Frontier

Number of the Day


By Sept. 15, at least 125,730 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 4 percent increase from the week before. [The Marshall Project]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Pandemic inspires new push to shrink jails and prisons: Crowded jails and prisons have been deadly. By now 120,000 COVID-19 cases and 1000 deaths have been documented among people incarcerated in U.S. prisons alone. As cases surged, public health experts amplified a long-standing, unfulfilled demand of criminal justice reform advocates: Lock fewer people up. Because of the virus, such decarceration efforts suddenly made speedy progress. “Policy recommendations that we were unable to get traction on for 2 years—we were able to get them done in 3 weeks,” an official said. [American Association for the Advancement of Science]

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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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