The Weekly Wonk: Criminal justice reform opportunities; immigrant access to basic services; 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’s edition of The Weekly Wonk was published with contributions from Open Justice Oklahoma Intern Thomas Gao.

This Week from OK Policy

During the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers created a group of 22 stakeholders with the opportunity to fundamentally transform Oklahoma’s justice system for the better: the Oklahoma Criminal Justice Reclassification Coordination Council. Criminal Justice Policy Analyst Damion Shade examined a number of justice reform opportunities before the Reclassification Council and recommended policymakers prioritize:

  •  Modernizing Oklahoma’s sentencing based on national best practices;
  •  Eliminating mandatory minimums and fixing habitual offender laws;
  •  Reforming legal eligibility for alternatives to incarceration.

In his weekly Journal Record column, former director David Blatt praised a move by federal judges to block a new rule from the administration on ‘public charge’ that would make it harder for legal immigrants to get needed health care, food and housing. Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update summarized a recent interim study about the impact of incarceration on the children of people who are sentenced to prison.

In this week’s edition of Meet OK Policy, we are featuring Nicole Poindexter, Outreach and Legislative Liaison. You can meet more members of our staff here.

OK Policy in the News

Open Justice Oklahoma Director Ryan Gentzler spoke to The Appeal about the need to reform Oklahoma’s sentencing practices. KFOR cited OK Policy data on the impact of budget cuts on music and art classes in Oklahoma schools. 

Upcoming Opportunities

Happening Next Week: David Blatt Farewell Events and Legacy Fund: We are just over a week away from the events celebrating our former director David Blatt. Please join us in Oklahoma City on Monday, October 28th from 5-7 pm and in Tulsa on Tuesday, October 29th from 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Both events are free and open to everyone. For more information and to RSVP, visit To honor David’s work at OK Policy and ensure it will continue in the years ahead, we invite you to contribute to the David Blatt Legacy Fund.

Weekly What’s That

Public charge, what’s that?

Public charge is a term used by U.S. immigration officials to refer to a person who is considered primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. Where this consideration applies, an immigrant who is found to be “likely . . . to become a public charge” may be denied admission to the U.S. or lawful permanent resident status.

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

Quote of the Week

“It’s important that we pay legislators enough to be able to do their jobs, and we want public office to be open to all Oklahomans — not only the rich. Just like teaching isn’t a seasonal job, neither is the work of our legislators…All public servants must be able to afford to do their jobs.”

– Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, on the recently announced pay raise for state legislators [NonDoc].

Editorial of the Week

Tulsa World: “On Medicaid expansion, the people of Oklahoma push elected leaders out of the way to force a vote”

Since 2014, the federal government has offered to pay the lion’s share of the cost for offering Medicaid coverage to working-age adults who earn less than 138% of the federal poverty level. For a cost of roughly $100 million, Oklahoma could have $1 billion in funding to pay for health care coverage of the state’s poorest people.

But — driven by partisan politics rather than good policy — the state’s elected officials have refused the money. Oklahoma is one of only 14 holdout states for Medicaid expansion, and, not surprisingly, it has the second highest rate of uninsured people in the nation. [Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 48% – Percent of infants and toddlers in Oklahoma who live in households with incomes less than twice the federal poverty line (in 2017, about $50,000 a year for a family of four)
  • 74.6% – Percent of infants and toddlers in Oklahoma who live in 2-parent homes
  • 28% – Percentage of LGBTQ+ Oklahomans who have an annual household income below $24,000, compared to 24% of non-LGBTQ+ individuals #LGBTQHistoryMonth
  • 25 months – Median length of prison stay for drug-related crimes in Oklahoma, compared to the national average of 14 months
  • 38% – Percentage of LGBTQ+ Oklahomans who are raising children #LGBTQHistoryMonth

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • #LGBTQHistoryMonth: Health and access to care and coverage for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the U.S. [Kaiser Family Foundation]
  • How many people in your state go to local jails every year? New data shows that local jails impact more people in your state than you may think [Prison Policy]
  • We didn’t stand a chance against opioids [The New Republic]
  • White borrowers? Almost paid off. Black borrowers? Still indebted [The Chronicle of Higher Education]
  • Work Requirements in Kentucky Medicaid: A policy in limbo [The Commonwealth Fund]


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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