In The Know: Overcrowding more than just a word for Oklahoma inmates

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 or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zebre.

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Today you should know that NewsOK examined the results of overcrowding in Oklahoma prisons and jails, including a severe beating of a drunk man thrown into a 3-person cell with 6 other inmates, and a mentally ill woman kept in prison because there were no mental health beds available. A bill proposed in the House would allow offenders imprisoned for serious crimes to begin earning credits toward early release sooner in their terms.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state is unconstitutionally underfunding public schools. OK Policy’s Gene Perry and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Elizabeth McNichol wrote a joint op-ed for NewsOK on how Oklahoma’s budget choices are being made with incomplete information and inadequate long-term planning. The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association may have violated ethics rules by not reporting free tickets to football and basketball playoff games for legislators.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is considering requiring stricter monitoring of injection wells used to dispose of waste from oil and gas drilling, which have been linked to numerous earthquakes in Oklahoma. A portrait of Oklahoma native Ralph Ellison, author of “Invisible Man”, was hung at the state Capitol. Governor Fallin’s daughter is receiving national publicity and criticism for a photo she posted of herself wearing a Native American headdress.

Tulsa singer Rebecca Ungerman, who frequently performs to raise funds for charity, is now seeking to fundraise for her own medical bills. Ungerman said she was unable to obtain health coverage due to Oklahoma’s refusal of federal funds to expand Medicaid. The number of the day is the infant mortality rate for African-Americans in Oklahoma. In today’s Policy Note, Paul Krugman explains why taking action to reduce extreme inequality in America would likely increase economic growth.

In The News

Overcrowding more than just a word for Oklahoma inmates

For Oklahoma jail inmates, overcrowding can lead to filthy living conditions and almost comical stories of cheapskate sheriffs. Yet, for others, it can be a matter of life or death. Mark Jones was locked up in the Woodward County jail in August 2011 when two drunken inmates were brought into the jail in northwestern Oklahoma. One of the men was placed in the drunk tank. The other one was jammed into cell number 6, which already was packed full of inmates. Jones, who was awaiting trial for another crime, said the drunken inmate “singled me out” as jail staff were about to put him in the cell with six other inmates.

Read more from NewsOK.

Bill would let inmates earn credits toward early release sooner

A bill aimed at easing the state’s prison crowding problem and improving safety is making its way through the Oklahoma Legislature. Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said he hopes his House Bill 2732 will be heard on the House floor in the coming days. The measure would allow offenders whose crimes require them to serve 85 percent of their sentences to begin earning credits toward early release at the front end of their terms. Once the offender completes 85 percent of the sentence, the credits would be applied to reduce the remainder.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Kansas Supreme Court says state is inadequately funding public schools, violating constitution

Kansas must spend more money on its public schools, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday in a decision that could jeopardize Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s desire to make his state a tax-cutting template for the nation. The high court’s ruling, which found that Kansas’ school funding isn’t constitutional, came in a 2010 lawsuit filed by parents and school districts. The case has broader implications beyond the classroom: Kansas enacted sweeping cuts to income taxes in 2012 and 2013 championed by Brownback that have reduced the amount of available resources to comply with a court order on education funding.

Read more from the Associated Press.

Oklahoma budget choices rest on incomplete information

Oklahoma’s revenue forecasting recently caused dismay when the state had to lower its projections for how much tax revenue it would bring in this year and next. That miss highlighted the importance of the state’s annual revenue estimate, which serves as the foundation for the budget and Oklahoma’s ability to plan for the future. Oklahoma doesn’t have a good track record for long-term planning. In fact, the state finished last (tied with South Dakota) in long-term planning among all 50 states, according to a recent report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Read more from NewsOK.

OSSAA’s free tickets to lawmakers may have violated ethics rules

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association provides free tickets to football and basketball playoff games to legislators each year upon request. An association is supposed to have its lobbyists report every six months any “thing of value” given to a state official costing more than $10, ethics officials told The Oklahoman. Also, an association can only spend up to $100 a year on gifts to a state official.

Read more from NewsOK.

Stricter regulation for injection wells under consideration

There could soon be new, stricter regulations for injection wells in Oklahoma. Proposed changes are up for a vote this week by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. New research suggests the largest earthquakes on record in Oklahoma were likely triggered by oil and gas activity. Seismologists have claimed connection between some injection wells to earthquakes including the largest Oklahoma quake on record. Angela Spotts said she feels the quakes almost daily at her Stillwater home. She thinks they are caused by injection wells.

Read more from KOCO.

Ralph Ellison portrayed displayed at Oklahoma Capitol

A portrait of Oklahoma native, author and musician Ralph Waldo Ellison was hung Thursday at the state Capitol, a building Ellison once worked in as a janitor. Ellison, who was raised in the Deep Deuce area of Oklahoma City, wrote the widely acclaimed novel “Invisible Man,” for which he won the National Book Award in 1953. The novel tells the story of an educated black man in pre-civil rights-era America and the difficulties he faced in a society that refused to recognize him. It is often cited as one of the greatest American literary works.

Read more from NewsOK.

Governor Fallin’s daughter takes heat for headdress photo

The daughter of Oklahoma’s governor is defending a photo of herself wearing a Native American headdress, though the picture was removed from social media sites after criticism that it was insensitive. Christina Fallin, who is not Native American, wears a red-and-white feathered headdress in the picture posted Thursday on her band’s Facebook page along with the words “appropriate culturation.” The photo was later taken down from there and from her Instagram account, and replaced with a statement saying she wore it with the “deepest respect” and asking people to forgive her for wearing beautiful things.

Read more from the Huffington Post.

Tulsa singer-fundraiser Rebecca Ungerman must raise funds for own surgery

For more than a decade, singer Rebecca Ungerman has belted out jazz tunes to raise funds for Oklahoma charities and causes. But when Ungerman recently learned that she needed surgery, she had to turn to fans and friends to pay for it. Ungerman —— a well-known local entertainer —— is among about 150,000 Oklahomans who don’t make enough money to qualify for subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. She could have qualified for insurance under an expanded Medicaid program, but the federal expansion was rejected by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Read more from the Tulsa World.

Quote of the Day

I have repeated nightmares and I have not had a full night’s sleep (since the beating). Every time a door slams in the middle of the night I am paranoid that they will put another drunk, irate inmate into my cell. If I ever get out, I will seek professional help.

-Woodward County jail inmate Mark Jones, who said he had to fight off a drunken attacker who was shoved into 3-person cell that was already occupied by 6 other inmates (Source:

Number of the Day


The infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births for African-Americans in Oklahoma, more than twice the rate for white Oklahomans (6.5).

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Health, 2012

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Liberty, Equality, Efficiency

Almost 40 years ago Arthur Okun, chief economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, published a classic book titled “Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff,” arguing that redistributing income from the rich to the poor takes a toll on economic growth. Okun’s book set the terms for almost all the debate that followed: liberals might argue that the efficiency costs of redistribution were small, while conservatives argued that they were large, but everybody knew that doing anything to reduce inequality would have at least some negative impact on G.D.P. But it appears that what everyone knew isn’t true. Taking action to reduce the extreme inequality of 21st-century America would probably increase, not reduce, economic growth.

Read more from the New York Times.

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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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