The Weekly Wonk: An examination of criminal justice reforms, SNAP, and more

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

The Governor’s RESTORE criminal justice task force is expected to release its recommendations in January and it has the potential to fundamentally alter Oklahoma’s justice system. The task force could bring greater justice to the state’s prison system by strengthening investments in alternatives to incarceration and treatment, reducing fines and fees, lowering the impact of cash bail on the poorest Oklahomans, and creating a dedicated re-entry system. 

OK Policy criminal justice analyst Damion Shade participated in The State of Working America podcast to discuss key challenges and prospects for undoing some of the damage America’s criminal justice system inflicts on the economically disadvantaged and communities of color.

Across the nation, about a third of university students and nearly two out of three community college students are food insecure, meaning they are uncertain where their next meal will come from. Colleges and universities can help address this problem by informing college students that they might be able to get help putting food on the table through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

OK Policy shared analysis on the latest SNAP rule changes, which will not impact Oklahomans. Anticipated changes in 2020, however, could be detrimental to thousands of Oklahoma families. 

In her weekly Journal Record column, Executive Director Ahniwake Rose called on us to strive for a criminal justice system that treats all Oklahomans equitably regardless of the size of their bank account, the color of their skin or the neighborhood in which they live. Last week, she reminded us that continued investment in public services like education is crucial to undoing the damage caused by years of budget cuts.

In the most recent Capitol Update column, Steve Lewis noted that lawmakers need truthful and complete information to make agency appropriation decisions. During our hiatus, Lewis pointed out that there were a number of reform proposals left on the table at the end of last year’s legislative session that could move Oklahoma toward less harsh, lengthy, and expensive sentences, and took a look at redistricting in Oklahoma.

This week, we announced the hiring of Dave Hamby as our communications director to oversee the organization’s communication and media relations programs. Hamby started at OK Policy in October 2019 and serves as a member of the organization’s leadership team. 

OK Policy in the News

Open Justice Oklahoma, a project of OK Policy, helped provide data and analysis for a special, multi-series report by the Tulsa World on the impact of Oklahoma’s reliance on fines and fees. The special report included 10 stories that highlighted how excessive fines and fees has led to a two-tiered justice system — one where those who can afford to pay go free while those who can’t afford to pay often get stuck in a cycle of debt.

OK Policy was cited in an editorial in the Tulsa World by Michael DuPont on how Oklahoma can work to reduce poverty. CNHI cited OK Policy in a story about Governor Stitt traveling without a gubernatorial jet. The O’Colly cited OK Policy data in a story about music education in the state.

Weekly What’s That

Board of Equalization, what’s that?

A primary responsibility of the Board is to provide an official estimate of how much revenue will be available for the Oklahoma Legislature to spend for the coming year.  Three times a year, in December, February and June, the Board meets to certify revenue estimates for the upcoming budget year. Click here to read more about the Board of Equalization.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“We have a large number of students classified as ‘homeless.’ It is very hard to focus on academic achievement when you do not know where you will be sleeping from night to night.”

-Leon Ashlock, Tahlequah Public Schools Superintendent  [CNHI]

Op-ed of the Week

Michael DuPont: Where Oklahoma can start to reduce its unacceptable level of poverty

“While it will take time to reduce the prevalence of poverty, there are several steps we can take. Doing so is simply a question of priorities. Do we care enough about the well-being of our neighbors, including the 37,000 children in Tulsa County living in poverty, to take these steps and alleviate the stress in their daily lives? Or will we remain indifferent and continue offering platitudes about bootstraps? We should waste no time in confronting this question and respond with urgency.” [Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • -.6% – Change in Oklahoma tax revenue from its peak in 2008 to the first quarter of 2019. The average state saw a 13 percent increase in the same time period.
  • 20.2% – Percent of children in Oklahoma under age 18 who live in a food-insecure household compared to 17.4% nationally.
  • $11.9 million – The financial cost savings produced by the commutation of sentences for 527 Oklahomans during the largest commutation in American history on Nov. 1, 2019.
  • 25.2% – Percent of Oklahoma children 0-3 years old who live in poverty, compared to 23.7 percent nationally.
  • 9% – The cost of climate change to Oklahoma by 2099 as a percent of state income. Rural counties in southeast and southwest Oklahoma can expect costs of more than 10 percent of their income.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Childhood trauma is a public health issue and we can do more to prevent it [NPR]
  • The inflation gap: A new analysis indicates that rising prices have been quietly taxing low-income families more heavily than rich ones [The Atlantic]
  • Is the ‘War on Drugs’ over? Arrest statistics say no [New York Times]
  • DAs increasingly treat overdoses as homicides [The Appeal]
  • Meet the low-wage workforce [Brookings Institution]


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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