In The Know: Aging prison buildings are growing problem for Corrections Department

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.

Today In The News

Aging prison buildings are growing problem for Corrections Department: More than a century ago, around the time of statehood, The Indian Mission School Haloche Institute was opened in Taft. By 1909 it was an orphanage for deaf and blind children, and the building would serve as various children’s homes until the late 1980s. Today it houses more than 1,000 female inmates, nearly twice the number it is rated to hold [The Oklahoman].

Department of Public Safety discusses potential furloughs: As the governor and legislative leaders continue to disagree over how to spend more than $140 million in available money from last fiscal year, agencies across the state feel the clock ticking. The Department of Public Safety announced earlier this week there was the possibility of having to dole out 23-day furloughs for more than 1,500 employees, including 811 highway patrol troopers and roughly 750 civilian employees. Durant said the longer talks between Gov. Mary Fallin and legislative leadership are drawn out the less time they have to fit in furloughs, which could put an even larger strain on operations [News9]. The trooper furlough is the latest blowback from lawmakers’ failure to fund state government adequately [Editorial Board / Tulsa World].

DHS cuts prompt DA to end child support program: The State of Oklahoma’s budget shortfall isn’t news to many at this point. But now people are beginning to feel the local impact as programs that lost funding make cuts. Payne County’s well-regarded Child Support Services office is one of them. Payne and Logan County District Attorney Laura Austin Thomas said she decided not to renew her office’s contract with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for child support collections after finding out just how much the program would be changed by budget cuts [Stillwater News-Press].

Muskogee police pepper spray 84-year-old black woman in her own home: An attorney representing Muskogee said the pepper-spraying of an 84-year-old woman was a reasonable use of force. Attorney Scott Wood said the breach of a home, electrical stunning of a suspect and pepper-spraying of the home’s resident, Geneva Smith, was reasonable “given the totality of the circumstances.” Muskogee police officers followed Smith’s son to her house at about 2:45 a.m., attempting to pull him over after he allegedly ran a stop sign at Elgin and South Junction streets [Muskogee Phoenix]. While we always urge caution when judging stories involving use of force by police, this scenario raises serious questions about one Muskogee police officer’s decision to pepper spray an elderly woman [NonDoc].

Unsettled Country: Rural Oklahoma’s Struggle with Addiction, Mental Illness: From its vast, open ranges in the northwest to its lush, rolling hills in the southeast corner, rural Oklahoma still evokes an idyllic image. The archetype of quiet, small towns with a strong sense of community – where friendliness is abundant and “big city” stresses are few – often marks the popular imagery used to represent the state and its values. But for many of those who live in Oklahoma’s rural areas, the reality does not match the trouble-free imagery [Oklahoma Watch].

Back to School With Budgets Still Tight: In states with the biggest school-budget cuts, much of the pain is self-inflicted, because they have cut income taxes in recent years, creating budget shortfalls that make it impossible to adequately finance their schools. Kansas is the most notorious for such counterproductive tax cuts; other offenders include Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Oklahoma, in particular, is vying with its neighbor Kansas for the title of most fiscally reckless. Repeated cuts to Oklahoma’s income tax have resulted in deep and chronic budget shortfalls, and yet the top tax rate went down again in January, from 5.25 percent to 5 percent. The lost revenue has been offset in part by a reduction in the amount of assistance the poorest Oklahomans can derive from the state’s earned-income tax credit [Editorial Board / New York Times].

5th District candidate seeks recount of election results: Tom Guild, who lost the Democratic runoff for the 5th Congressional District by 40 votes, on Friday requested a recount in Oklahoma and Seminole counties. Supporters raised the $2,700 needed to pay for the recount, which will be held Tuesday. Al McCaffrey, of Oklahoma City, defeated Guild in the election. The race was a rematch of 2014, when McAffrey beat Guild for the Democratic nomination in the congressional district. This past Tuesday, McAffrey received 8,025 votes to Guild’s 7,985 [NewsOK].

Oklahoma legislative races set for November with only a few likely in play: With races for state House and Senate seats now set following last week’s primary runoffs, candidates are navigating changing political demographics, dealing with an unusual presidential election and looking to drum up support among an electorate that has a largely unfavorable view of the Oklahoma Legislature. But while legislative races are 70 days away, the deep partisan divide between parts of the state means most races between Democrats and Republicans are essentially over, at least based on voter demographics [NewsOK].

Controversy swirls over rewrite of medical marijuana ballot title: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Thursday released his rewritten version of the ballot title for State Question 788. The ballot title summarizes a state question for voters. The revision includes: “This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified.” Pruitt stands by the revision, Ferguson said. “Unfortunately, the attorney general couldn’t help himself and injected his own political views,” said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma executive director. The end result is a confusing ballot title that makes it appear like approving the question would be a vote for outright legalization of marijuana, Kiesel said [Tulsa World].

Transportation officials identify projects that could tap bond funds: The Oklahoma Transportation Department has released a list of 18 projects that are candidates for use of the $200 million in bond money authorized earlier this year by the Oklahoma Legislature. Three of the projects are in Oklahoma County, and one is in Tulsa County. The others are scattered throughout the state. “I think our fear is that the public will think this is an additional $200 million that we are receiving over and above (what the agency normally would get),” said Mike Patterson, the agency’s executive director. That’s not the case, he said. The bond money just replaces a portion of the $367 million in budget cuts the agency was required to absorb as the state Legislature made sweeping cuts across numerous state agencies to fill a $1.3 billion budget hole, Patterson said [The Oklahoman].

Environmental Authorities Order Fixes After Diesel Spill in Ada: The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has ordered city officials in Ada to make a series of fixes to ensure the community has clean drinking water after 2,000 gallons of diesel spilled on the ground near city water wells in April of 2015. DEQ’s orders include stricter sampling, testing and monitoring of wells, the construction of barriers to guard against spills and requiring the city to find an alternative source of drinking water if the wells aren’t usable, the Ada News’ Eric Swanson reports: The area of the spill was over the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, which is the main water source for several towns in south-central Oklahoma [StateImpact Oklahoma].

Could urban farming provide a much-needed oasis in the Tulsa food desert?: As a young girl in Mississippi, Demalda Newsome once found some sweet potatoes sprouting outside. Excited at her discovery, she presented them to her grandmother, who angrily ordered the root vegetables out of her house. People should eat things from the ground only out of poverty, her grandmother said. Now as a 59-year-old grandmother herself, Newsome still hears this view expressed as she works to combat food insecurity in the low-income neighbourhood of north Tulsa, Oklahoma [The Guardian].

Oklahoma’s Oil Bust Affects Local Retailers, Mall Owners: An Oklahoma City shopping mall and high-end retail tenant are experiencing the indirect effect of the oil and gas industry’s economic downturn. Iowa luxury retailer, Von Maur, opened its 30th store in Quail Springs Mall in October 2014. The 155,000 square foot store is the fourth anchor at the mall. Von Maur offers upscale brand-name apparel, footwear, jewelry, handbags and gifts. Factoring into Von Maur’s decision to expand to the metro was a lucrative $2 million sales incentive deal between the mall owners and the City of Oklahoma City; however, the retailer has not met the minimum sales thresholds required for the sales incentive [OK Energy Today].

Quote of the Day

“Every bit of it comes back to economics. The money does not get very far beyond Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. That’s where the money is, and that’s where the money stays.”

-Licensed clinical social worker Robinson Tolbert, speaking about the difficulty of accessing mental health treatment in rural Oklahoma counties with the highest rates of drug abuse and mental illness (Source).

Number of the Day


Change in the cost of premiums across all plans on Oklahoma’s Affordable Care Act health insurance marketplace, 2014-2015.

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Unpaid and Unpartisan: Unpaid work—the work upon which all other economic activity is built—was not mentioned in the keynotes of the Democratic or Republican National Conventions. It will probably not be mentioned much, if at all, between now and November. But now—as we ready for a shift in administrations and the alignment of America’s parties and politics—is the time for us to talk about what it means when so much labor in this country is unpaid and undervalued. Why? Because unpaid work has yet to be claimed by Democrats or Republicans, and so has the potential to be understood as pre-partisan, a universal issue that all of us can get behind [New America].

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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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