The Weekly Wonk: Calling for criminal justice reform, a tax cut for working families, 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 Criminal Justice RESTORE Task Force report released Friday identified some positive ideas to address needs within Oklahoma’s justice system, but it lacks bold – and specific – legislative changes to fully match the scale of Oklahoma’s incarceration crisis. OK Policy released a statement Friday suggesting specific policy measures that can address the crisis, while also calling on lawmakers to pass legislation that provides equal access to justice regardless of wealth and deploys evidence-based best practices in sentencing

In her weekly Journal Record column, Executive Director Ahniwake Rose made the case for updating our state tax code to make it work for working families. During our winter hiatus, she described her vision for a top ten state and pointed out that Oklahoma can’t cut or save its way to prosperity.

OK Policy in the News

The Tulsa World featured Executive Director Ahniwake Rose in their annual “People to Watch” series. The Muskogee Phoenix cited Valuing Work, the first paper in our State of Work in Oklahoma series, in an editorial about opportunities presented by the state budget. Criminal Justice Policy Analyst Damion Shade spoke to CNHI about financial barriers faced by individuals who have become eligible for expungement under recent criminal justice reforms. The Oklahoman Editorial Board cited OK Policy comments on the state’s poverty rate in a recent weekly brief. Standard Digitial cited information from OK Policy’s Online Budget Guide. The American Prospect cited OK Policy data in an article about Tulsa’s efforts to recruit remote workers. OK Policy’s statement about the RESTORE task force report was included in articles from The Oklahoman and Tulsa World. Open Justice Oklahoma Director Ryan Gentzler had a letter to the editor published that corrected recent news accounts about the findings of the Reclassification Coordination Council.

Upcoming Opportunities

Together Oklahoma Duncan Chapter: A Community Conversation: Join advocates in Duncan this Thursday at 6 p.m. for a town hall-style conversation around race, equity, and public policy. This event is an opportunity for New Visions, Thick Descriptions and Together OK to partner with community members and leaders for a conversation around the past, the present and the future of the community and state. Click here to learn more and RSVP.

Weekly What’s That

Tribal Gaming Compacts, what’s that?

In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved SQ 712, which set up a model compact between the state and Native American tribes to regulate tribal gaming operations. Under the compact, tribes were authorized to operate specified games in return for making exclusivity payments to the state. The compacts were signed for a 15-year period. Compacts expire January 1, 2020 and will automatically renew for successive additional fifteen-year terms, provided that, within 180 days of the compact’s expiration  either the tribe or the state may request to renegotiate specified portions of the compact’s terms.

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

Quote of the Week

“Oklahomans deserve to be paid fairly so they can offset the rising costs of health care, housing and food. Closing the wage gap between the poverty line and middle class would have a tremendous impact on our economy by increasing consumer spending and generating more tax revenue for our municipalities and state.”

– State Sen. George Young speaking about his proposed legislation to increase Oklahoma’s minimum wage [Journal Record].

Editorial of the Week

Recommendations must achieve mandate of reduction of prison population

Oklahoma can no longer afford to incarcerate its residents at rates that are among the highest in the world — the commutation of sentences in November for more than 400 Oklahomans is expected to save taxpayers $11.9 million. 

To ensure success, the council’s proposals must be screened to ensure the length of prison sentences are comparable to the national median for the same or similar crimes. Where feasible, the criminal code should be reformed to rely more on treatment rather than incarceration. 

While we acknowledge competing interests, the focus must remain on the mandate of reducing the state’s prison population. 

[Muskogee Phoenix]

Numbers of the Day

  • 146 – The largest number of confirmed tornadoes in a single year in Oklahoma’s history which happened in 2019.
  • 49th – Oklahoma’s ranking in per pupil spending for its rural students. Only Idaho spends less.
  • 218,770 – The estimated number of Oklahoma children who were food insecure in 2016.
  • 87.8% – Share of Oklahoma student aid that was need-based in 2017-18. Shares in other states range from 0 to 100 percent, with most states awarding over 90 percent of financial aid grant dollars base on need.
  • 79% – The percentage of women in Oklahoma prisons with a history of or currently presenting symptoms of severe mental illness.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading


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