In The Know: Decades of neglect underpins $1.65 billion prisons request

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

In The Know is taking a break for the rest of the week as most staff head to conferences. We’ll return on Monday, December 5th. 

Decades of neglect underpins $1.65 billion prisons request: Overseeing chronically overcrowded, rapidly deteriorating facilities, Oklahoma’s prison director is seeking to triple his department’s budget in hopes of reversing decades of deferred maintenance and neglect that has jeopardized a linchpin of public safety. “We’re not a listing ship. We are a sinking ship,” Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said after the state Board of Corrections approved his nearly $1.65 billion budget request for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and sent it to state lawmakers for their review [NewsOK]. The effects of budget cuts on Oklahoma prisons are hidden but dangerous [OK Policy].

Epidemic Ignored: Lack of accountability in Oklahoma jails leaves prisoners vulnerable, taxpayers on the hook: When the inmate asked for a wheelchair, the Beckham County jail staff gave him an alternative option: crawling. The man’s feet were swollen, bleeding and cracked, caused by gout, a painful form of arthritis. He couldn’t walk. For days, the man crawled on the cold, concrete floor. When his family came to the jail to visit him, he crawled across the floor to meet them. When staff brought his medicine to the cell, he crawled to the cell door [NewsOK]. 

Mothers in Prison: The women’s wing of the jail here exhales sadness. The inmates, wearing identical orange uniforms, ache as they undergo withdrawal from dugs, as they eye one another suspiciously, and as they while away the days stripped of freedom, dignity, privacy, and, most painful of all, their children. “She’s disappointed in me,” Janay Manning, 29, a drug offender shackled to the wall for an interview, said of her eldest daughter, a 13 year-old. And then she started crying, and we paused our interview [Nicholas Kristof / The New York Times]. 

Oklahoma City’s homeless rack up tickets for inhabiting city medians: The bulk of citations written for Oklahoma City’s controversial panhandling ordinance have been issued to a handful of homeless men panhandling at the same intersection — NE 23 and Santa Fe — with many panhandlers racking up repeated citations. Out of the 73 tickets Oklahoma City police wrote through Nov. 3 for standing or sitting on a median, 34 were issued at NE 23 and Santa Fe [NewsOK]. Booker T. Washington, who sells the street magazine Curbside Chronicle at busy intersections in Oklahoma City, said he has seen his profits decline significantly since a new ordinance limiting public access to traffic medians went into effect [NewsOK]. Oklahoma City’s panhandling ordinance is part of a disturbing trend of criminalizing poverty [OK Policy].

Senator files bill to crack down on uninsured motorists:A state lawmaker has filed a bill to crack down on uninsured motorists. Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said he named his Senate Bill 3 in honor of the late Bob Barry Jr., an Oklahoma City-based sportscaster, who died in 2015 after being struck by an uninsured motorist. Barry worked for KFOR-TV. …Sharp said it is his intent to require insurance companies to notify the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety if drivers do not pay their insurance premiums [Tulsa World]. In Oklahoma, avoiding credit card debt can hike your auto insurance premiums [OK Policy].

Oklahoma speaker-elect: House Republicans plan budget hearings for state agencies: Have you ever watched a mother shopping for groceries? If you paid attention, you probably noticed two things: first, she spent time deliberating over items as she perused the aisles and, second, she invariably removed items from her cart as she added new items. This mother was making value choices about how to spend her money — choices that involve trade-offs in allocating resources. Like most Oklahomans, she probably has a set budget and must make hard choices about how to spend her family’s money [Rep. Charles A. McCall / NewsOK].

Legislature to teachers: We do and do and do for you kids! And this is the thanks we get? We do and do and do for you kids! And this is the thanks we get? The enforced family proximity of Thanksgiving having just passed, that famous phrase from many a frustrated mother’s lecture to ungrateful children might be in the minds of a lot of people at the moment. The Oklahoma Legislature had its own “We do and do and do for you kids” moment in April, House Bill 3109, and it’s playing out in school districts across the state this year [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World].

The irresistible forces and the immovable object of the 2017 legislative session: It’s nearly impossible to predict what will happen in the 2017 Legislature. What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Well, the answer could be anything from a big explosion to a simple standoff with nothing happening. If you predict an explosion, we could instead see the Legislature stroll wearily home in May having patched together a pathetic budget and having left most of the state’s challenges for a better day. Conversely, if you predict a standstill Legislature, we might instead see an explosion of action bringing budget and tax reform that meets 21st century challenges in education, criminal justice, health care, mental health, energy, the environment and vulnerable children and the elderly [OK Policy].

Initiative to house veterans and chronic homeless extends timeline: An on-the-job injury left Robert Sullivan unable to work. He lost his income and eventually found himself homeless, living in his truck and bouncing around between friends’ houses. It’s a situation the Army veteran never imagined he’d find himself in. …Sullivan’s homeless stint was relatively brief — he was able to be housed in about a month thanks to the work of A Way Home for Tulsa and the Zero:2016 initiative [Tulsa World].

DHS makes changes to address maltreatment issues: Reducing the number of children maltreated in state care has proved to be a difficult challenge for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, but the agency is beginning to see progress, says Jami Ledoux, director of child welfare services. “We’re the agency that is charged with safety of kids and it’s not OK for us to remove children from biological families and then turn around and put them in an unsafe situation,” Ledoux said [NewsOK].

Fallin says Trump visit centered on tribes, Okla. energy industry: Oklahoma’s economy, the oil and gas industry and the 39 federally recognized Native American tribes in the state were some of the topics discussed during a 40-minute interview in New York with President-elect Donald Trump, Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday. Fallin spoke to reporters about her interview on Monday with Trump and his incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus about the possibility of her accepting a position in Trump’s administration as head of the Interior Department, a federal agency with more than 70,000 employees [Claremore Daily Progress].

Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt to meet with President-elect Donald Trump on Monday: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is set to meet Monday in New York City with President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team, Pruitt spokesman Lincoln Ferguson confirmed Saturday. Pruitt, a Republican in his sixth year as the state’s attorney general, has challenged Obama administration rules and regulations on the environment, immigration, health care and education in lawsuits, some of which have reached the U.S. Supreme Court [Tulsa World].

New Planned Parenthood clinic offers abortion services in Oklahoma City area: Planned Parenthood Great Plains on Tuesday opened its third Oklahoma City-area clinic and the organization’s only clinic in Oklahoma to provide abortions. The Warr Acres clinic will provide early term, medically induced abortions, said Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains. Surgical procedures will not be offered for the time being, Lee-Gilmore said [NewsOK].

Oil bust, regulatory actions in earthquake zone prompt shift in oil and gas production to new areas: Energy market conditions account for at least 41 percent of wastewater disposal cutbacks from oil and natural gas production in the state over a nearly two-year span, with regulatory actions comprising the rest, according to an ongoing study by an Oklahoma Geological Survey scientist. The combination of those two factors has forced the industry to look elsewhere for more economical fossil fuel operations, with a depressed market and a regulatory cap in a 15,000-square-mile area of Oklahoma rocked by induced seismicity limiting production in what has been a prolific formation [Tulsa World].

Gleaning up after Thanksgiving: With the holiday season upon us, our thoughts often turn to those in need — of food, clothing and shelter. I recently attended the Oklahoma Food Security Summit and was struck by a presentation about the practice known as gleaning, a term I’d never heard before. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines gleaning “as the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers’ markets, grocers, restaurants….or any other sources, in order to provide it to those in need.” [GlassHospital] One in 6 Oklahomans, including 1 in 4 children, don’t always know if they’ll have enough food for their next meal [OK Policy].

Iron Gate appeals zoning denial for new downtown location: Iron Gate took its fight to build a new downtown soup kitchen and grocery pantry to Tulsa County District Court on Wednesday. Appeals were filed on two decisions by the Tulsa City Board of Adjustment, which stalled the nonprofit’s plans to build a 20,000-square-foot facility on vacant property between Seventh and Eighth streets and Kenosha and Elgin avenues [Tulsa World].

Quote of the Day

“We’re not a listing ship. We are a sinking ship.”

-Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh,after the state Board of Corrections approved a nearly $1.65 billion budget request – triple this year’s appropriation – for the next state fiscal year, with much of the funds going to updating aging facilities and constructing new ones (Source)

Number of the Day


Number of tickets out of 73 issued for sitting or standing on medians in Oklahoma City that were written to homeless people 

Source: NewsOK

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

How Are States Using Welfare Funding? Often, Not to Help People Work. When Congress reformed the nation’s welfare program 20 years ago, it set a new condition for eligibility: Recipients must have a job or be searching for one. But the 1996 reforms also gave states freedom to decide how to spend their federal welfare funding. As a result, many aren’t spending it on programs that directly help people find employment. Last year, on average, states used less than 10 percent of welfare funding for work-related services, such as subsidized employment, job training, job search assistance and transportation vouchers [Governing].

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Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

One thought on “In The Know: Decades of neglect underpins $1.65 billion prisons request

  1. Some context for understanding the current DOC funding request. Over a decade ago private prison companies began shepherding key Republican legislators to their point of view via campaign contributions and private favors such as travel on company planes. In return those legislators began pressuring the DOC director to put more funding/inmates into private supervision in prisons and halfway houses. The DOC director resisted mostly successfully on the principle that, once you lock into contracts and relationships, you lose flexibility in management and accountability in public control. In return the legislators upped the already traditional beggaring of state corrections that had begun under Democrats resisting demands of state DAs for more 2000-bed facilities. The DOC director managed to hold off much of the deterioration through the use of revolving fund surpluses, but once the governor (recipient of an inauguration paid for by private prisons) bought into the agenda whole hog, she and her cronies implemented a smear campaign to remove the director and claimed that, rather than being the best worst case given realities, the revolving funds use was some kind of corruption to be removed. Once removed, the deterioration went nonlinear.

    However, given the lack of nonpartisan evidence for private prison superiority and the skepticism raised by news reports of private prison purchase of the state’s top officials, the governor and her legislative allies clearly realized that direct advocacy of more private prison use would cause more trouble. Answer? Bring in a well-known political spinmaster with no relevant qualifications (illegal until overturned recently) to run DOC who would sell the idea of being “forced” to use private prisons after the years of neglect and deterioration. Create yet one more “task force” with the usual suspects and the same malleable consultants who blew the last reform effort to cite stats about the enormous prisoner increase expected if reforms don’t pass (they won’t to the extent needed, even if run through initiatives like the last ones in Nov) and to repair the infrastructure problems ignored for years.

    Of course the policymakers won’t come up with the money for the DOC proposal [sic]. So an alternative will have to be sought. Such as? Why, we all know that private prisons being private are better at everything than public anything and they will be able to save money, be efficient, save the day, yada, yada. Once again, the state and its oh-so-dedicated-to-public-service director will be “forced” to move to the private funding and decisions that would have been impossible if the direct approach had been attempted. And for, like, oh, only a third of the $1.65 billion!!! Why, they might even build the prisons and let OK lease them or buy them on convenient installment plans!!! Could anything be more heaven-sent?

    Twenty years ago, Dwayne Steidley and Cal Hobson led a reform group that not only predicted everything happening now if action weren’t taken but proposed reforms like those adopted in NC where the crime rates and prison budget costs have stayed below national averages. They initially prevailed but the state DAs and the Republican governor whose best man at his wedding was a top official of Corrections Corporation of America got it all rescinded. So the predictions have come true. State prisons have, even with their beggaring, taken more state money than they ever really should have and now are hoovering/will hoover down whatever funds do come available while education, mental health, public health, maintained roads and bridges, etc., suck air, as they did with the few dollars discovered and redistributed earlier this summer. Turning to the private prison companies, as will happen in whole or at least part as surely as the sun rises wherever, will institutionalize it all. And no one will have “wanted” to. It will have been “forced” on the state.

    And future governors won’t just complain about how schools going to four-day weeks make the state look bad for future development.

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