The Weekly Wonk: COVID-19 in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency | Interim studies examine police reform | Building community unity

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

COVID-19 in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency: The COVID-19 virus has ravaged jails and prisons across the United States. As of Sept. 15, at least 125,000 people in prisons have tested positive for the virus. Prisoners testing positive in Florida, California, Arkansas, and Oklahoma have driven a second peak in prison outbreaks. This crisis will escalate without further action. Oklahoma’s prison population is older and struggling with greater underlying health conditions than the average American prison population. The COVID-19 crisis in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency requiring urgent action to better protect vulnerable inmates, staff, and surrounding communities. [Damion Shade / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Fulfilling our moral responsibility: Our state leaders toss around the phrase “Oklahoma Standard” frequently when they talk about our moral character when we collectively take action during times of crisis. For the life of me, though, I am trying to figure out why it’s taken six months to apply that standard for those working or living in Oklahoma prisons and jails. [Ahniwake Rose / Policy Matters]

Interim studies examine police reform measures (Capitol Update): Interim studies held last week appeared to be a sincere effort to learn if anything can be done to decrease police violence and increase accountability, not just for individual officers but for their departments and their city and county leaders. But it will not be easy in an election year when the issue is being made partisan at the national level. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Upcoming Opportunities

Building Community Unity, Sept. 30, Ardmore: Together Oklahoma will be hosting a discussion on issues facing our communities and steps that people can take to be strong advocates for change. Guest speaker: Joshua Harris-Till. The event will be held at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 30 at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Ardmore. [Learn more or register

Weekly What’s That

Open Meetings Act

Oklahoma’s Open Meetings Act (25 O.S. Sections 301-314) requires all public bodies to file advance notice of regularly scheduled and special meetings with the Secretary of State, as well as advance notice of changes in date, time, or location of regularly scheduled meetings.

Under the Act, agendas for regular and special meetings must be posted in a publicly-accessible location for at least 24 hours prior to its meeting, and agendas must identify all items of business of the meeting.

”Public body” means all boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies, trusteeships, authorities, councils, committees, public trusts, task forces or study groups supported in whole or in part by public funds or entrusted with the expending of public funds, or administering public property, and includes all committees or subcommittees of any public body. Any gathering of a majority of members of a public body is subject to the Open Meetings Act.

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

Quote of the Week

“This is supposed to be a work camp, not a death camp.”

-Antonio Lucio describing conditions at the Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita where he is incarcerated. [Oklahoma Watch]  

Editorial of the Week

The state needs to do more to address problems of COVID-19 in prisons

A prison is always a dangerous place to work, but a prison in a pandemic is a special kind of dangerous. So, it’s appropriate (if overdue) that the state Department of Corrections has started paying workers in COVID-19 hot spot prisons an extra $2 an hour.

Facilities with COVID-19 rates of at least 20% among prisoners kept in cells or 15% among prisons kept in open bay housing are designated hot spots. The latest reports show eight prisons were hot spots.

Nine inmates and three employees may have died from COVID-19 complications, DOC says. That’s obviously dangerous. If prison employees start to think they are risking their lives just by going to work, the state won’t be able to staff its facilities at any price.

State appropriated funds will be used for the hot-spot pay as long as the agency’s budget can sustain it, DOC says. That’s a puzzling choice at a time when the federal government is picking up billions in state COVID-19 costs.

[Read full Tulsa World editorial]

Numbers of the Day

  • 125,730 – By Sept. 15, at least 125,730 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 4 percent increase from the week before.
  • 3,160 – Number of Oklahoma inmates who had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 1,398 cases active as of Sept. 23.
  • 9 – Number of state, local, or tribal governments that are among Oklahoma’s top 20 largest employers. All will be at risk of laying off staff or reducing services without additional federal COVID-19 aid. 
  • 16% – Percentage of Oklahoma adults who reported that children in their household weren’t eating enough because they couldn’t afford enough food. Data collected from August 19 to September 14, 2020.
  • 33.5% – The share of Oklahoma state and local taxes that comes from sales taxes, ranking our state as the 12th most dependent on sales taxes.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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