In The Know: Emails reveal how Governor Fallin’s staff weakened criminal justice reforms

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that Oklahoma Watch reported on how behind-the-scenes moves by Gov. Mary Fallin’s senior staff severely weakened a program designed to cut the state’s high incarceration rates. Although the Oklahoma Corrections Department is able to fill only about 60 percent of its staff positions, Governor Fallin’s top lawyer said the governor is not concerned. The Oklahoman editorial board warned that that the next big quake in Oklahoma may come from prisons, not underground.

The Oklahoma Gazette examined how Oklahoma law enforcement is profiting from the War on Drugs by seizing assets from drug crime suspects. The OK Policy Blog previously discussed concerns about policing for profit in Oklahoma. Officials expect newly legal marijuana sales in Colorado to lead to more of the drug coming into Oklahoma.

While other states have taken action to prevent them from opening to the public, the number of online charter schools is set to grow significantly in Oklahoma. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how a Tulsa teacher has volunteered to teach classes at 7 am after budget cuts eliminated advanced language classes. The number of Oklahoma children who were mistreated physically and emotionally has increased for a third consecutive year.

The Tulsa World gave a rundown of bills introduced in the last legislative session that could potentially be taken up again. NewsOK questioned whether Oklahoma is ready for a major earthquake. The Oklahoma City Council approved an ordinance to allow more urban agriculture, but they voted down a measure to allow backyard chickens. The OK Policy Blog previously shared a guest post making the case for urban chickens, and we counted down the 10 most popular OK Policy Blog posts in 2013.

The Number of the Day is how many children in Oklahoma were victims of child abuse or neglect during fiscal year 2013. In today’s Policy Note, Wonkblog discusses what 2014 means for Obamacare.

In The News

How actions by Governor Fallin’s staff weakened state justice reforms

Behind-the-scenes moves by Gov. Mary Fallin’s senior staff members helped lead to a severe weakening of a program designed to cut the state’s high incarceration rates and save taxpayers more than $200 million over a decade, according to interviews and records obtained by Oklahoma Watch. The efforts by the governor’s staff, assisted by legislative leaders, to take control of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative took place during periods when staff members met with representatives of private prison companies, which stood to gain or lose depending on how the initiative was implemented, emails and logs of visitors to Fallin’s offices show.

Read more from Oklahoma Watch.

Aide says Governor Fallin not concerned about lack of staffing in prisons

Although the Oklahoma Corrections Department is able to fill only about 60 percent of its staff positions, this lack of personnel does not present a safety concern for the public or for those working in the prisons, a top aide to Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday. “The governor is not concerned about the situation in the prisons,” said Steve Mullins, general counsel to the governor. “We have regular meetings with Interim Director (Ed) Evans, asking about the staffing of the prisons and the safety concerns in the prisons, and he assures us — and we see evidence — that the staffing is adequate for the safety of Oklahoma.” Corrections officer staffing in state prisons is just under 60 percent, said Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Corrections Department.

Read more from NewsOK.

See also: Next big quake in Oklahoma may come from prisons, not underground from NewsOK

Law enforcement accused of ‘policing for profit’ when it comes to war on drugs

Law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma continue to fight the War on Drugs, but it’s not solely for noble purposes. For certain, illegal drugs are seized and bad guys are put in prison. Still, agencies like the Oklahoma City Police Department, the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control know the War on Drugs is a profitable venture. During the last five years, Oklahoma City’s police department has seized almost $5 million in cash and property connected to alleged drug crimes. In some cases, however, individuals were never charged or convicted but lost their money and property anyway thanks to the state’s strict civil asset forfeiture laws, OKC criminal defense attorney Doug Parr said.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Previously: Policing for profit in Oklahoma from the OK Policy Blog

Officials say legal marijuana sales in Colorado could mean more in Oklahoma

Anyone looking to drive an ounce or two of marijuana from Colorado to Texas doesn’t have to worry about Oklahoma law enforcement for very long. From its northern border with Colorado, where marijuana is now legal for recreational use, to the southern border it shares with the Texas Panhandle, Cimarron County is only about 35 miles across. It wouldn’t take a driver with a small stash of pot too long to pass through the sparsely populated county, said Cimarron County Sheriff Bob White. Usually, those drivers aren’t planning to stay in the county, he said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Millions in state aid goes to online charter schools in Oklahoma

While other states have taken action to prevent them from opening to the public, the number of online charter schools is set to grow significantly in Oklahoma. The state Education Department already has provided several million dollars to the state’s two online charter schools, despite questions about the effectiveness of such institutions. Now, three additional online charter schools want to join the ranks in Oklahoma as the state Board of Education investigates whether one of the two existing schools may have misrepresented how many full-time students are enrolled.

Read more from NewsOK.

Prosperity Policy: Feel-good letdown

The newspaper called it one of the feel-good stories of the year. But it left me feeling rather terrible. As 2013 neared a close, the Tulsa World identified 10 of its most inspiring stories of the past year. In the No. 2 position was the story of Brenda Brake, a foreign languages teacher at Tulsa’s Memorial High School. As a result of budget cuts, the school was forced to eliminate teaching positions for advanced foreign languages. Brake was left as the school’s only Spanish teacher and was unable to continue to teach classes in advanced French during the school day.

Read more from the Journal Record.

Child abuse, neglect cases in Oklahoma rise for third year

The number of Oklahoma children who were mistreated physically and emotionally has increased for a third consecutive year, data from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services show. There were 11,418 children in the state who were victims of child abuse or neglect during fiscal year 2013. The most recent data show a nearly 58 percent increase in child victims since fiscal year 2010, when 7,248 Oklahoma children were harmed. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is working with staff at Casey Family Programs to determine what is causing the dramatic increase in child victimization, department spokeswoman Sheree Powell said.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

2013 Carryover Bills Include ‘Personhood’ Measure, Federal Health Insurance Fight

One of the quirks of the Oklahoma legislative process — and the U.S. Congress, for that matter — is that it operates on a two-year cycle. Bills introduced but that do not get a final vote in the first year of a Legislature remain active through the second year. Predicting which carryover bills and resolutions will be brought back to life is difficult. Sometimes it’s a measure that came within a few votes or a few days of the finish line during the previous session and is allowed to finish. Just as often, it’s a bill plucked from obscurity because it’s available and drastically revised to fit a need.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Is Oklahoma ready for a major earthquake?

Historic buildings would crumble, highway overpasses would collapse, houses would be jarred off their foundations and dams, including possibly Lake Hefner’s, would burst, sending walls of floodwater surging across the landscape. A recent swarm of minor earthquakes has left Oklahomans unsettled, and while experts say the chances of a large, devastating quake happening here are remote, a big one is not out of the question. For the past several weeks, the state has felt an average of 12 quakes a day, many in the Oklahoma City area.

Read more from NewsOK.

Urban agriculture proposals advance at Oklahoma City Council, but chickens are left behind

Urban chickens may yet have their day in Oklahoma City. Tuesday just wasn’t it. The Oklahoma City Council rejected a proposal to allow chickens on residential lots in urban and many suburban neighborhoods. The 7-2 decision preserves rules that restrict city chickens to lots of 1 acre or more. Despite rejecting the idea of urban chickens, at least for the moment, the council unanimously agreed to proposals intended to enhance other aspects of urban farming.

Read more from NewsOK.

Previously: The eggs have it (Guest Post: Shauna Struby) from the OK Policy Blog

Counting down our 10 most popular blog posts in 2013

It’s been a busy year for Oklahoma Policy Institute. We celebrated our 5th Anniversary with a packed crowd at Cain’s Ballroom and the release of our anniversary video. We convened the first Summer Policy Institute with more than 50 of Oklahoma’s future leaders from across the state. We put out a steady stream of resources and information: CountySTATS 2013 data sheets, the 2013 Legislative Primer, our Action Items for Oklahoma series of policy recommendations, In The Know daily news updates, and many other reports and fact sheets to help keep Oklahomans informed about state government and what we can do to ensure broad-based prosperity in Oklahoma. We also posted on our blog almost every weekday throughout the year. Here’s a rundown of our most popular blog posts in 2013.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Quote of the Day

The fact that we are obviously OK with kicking this can down the road of our officers working 60-hour-plus workweeks while someone at 7-Eleven is working a 40-hour workweek and making more money is unacceptable, and they should be ashamed.

-David Ramsey, president of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, responding to a statement by Governor Fallin’s top lawyer saying the governor is not concerned that Oklahoma prisons are staffed at under 60 percent (Source:

Number of the Day


Number of children in Oklahoma who were victims of child abuse or neglect during fiscal year 2013, nearly 58 percent increase since 2010.

Source: Oklahoma Department of Human Services via The Tulsa World

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

What 2014 means for Obamacare

It’s hard to overstate how much the health-insurance market changed at midnight: The Affordable Care Act has essentially flipped a multibillion-dollar industry upside down. For decades and decades, the best way to run a health-insurance plan in the individual market was to simply exclude the people who have really expensive health conditions. They got left out of the market, the insurer picked up the cheaper patients, and that was pretty much it. That was true on New Year’s Eve. But it’s not true today.

Read more from Wonkblog.

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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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