Weekly Wonk: Oklahoma needs leaders who prioritize people, not politics | Oklahomans will go another year without solutions to housing crisis | Anti-immigrant laws punish families and children. Oklahoma lawmakers pass them anyway.

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

Anti-immigrant laws punish families and children. Oklahoma lawmakers pass them anyway. (2024 Legislative Wrap-up): Immigration is a complex issue, and gridlock in Congress has resulted in states venturing deeper into a legal area reserved solely for the federal government. In a state like Oklahoma, this means that lawmakers introduce punitive immigration policies meant to deter immigrants from making Oklahoma their home. Instead of pushing through anti-immigrant bills that hurt all Oklahomans, lawmakers should pass inclusive policies that positively impact all Oklahomans, including immigrants. [Gabriela Ramirez-Perez / OK Policy]

Oklahomans will go another year without solutions to housing crisis (2024 Legislative Wrap-up): Oklahoma does not have enough housing, especially for low-income families. The state has a severe shortage of housing that is affordable for extremely low-income renters and evictions are on the rise. As pandemic-related rental assistance ends, the situation will become more dire. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Oklahoma needs leaders who prioritize people, not politics: In a time of increasing partisanship, we need more public servants who prioritize people over politics. Doing so would lead to more effective governance, a greater sense of community, and increased opportunities for all Oklahomans to thrive. [Shiloh Kantz / Journal Record]

Criminal justice reform in Oklahoma seems to come in small doses (Capitol Update): Senate Bill 325 by Rep. Collin Duel, R-Guthrie, and Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, which passed this session, improves the timeline for case completion by amending the Oklahoma Speedy Trial Act. Prior to passage of SB 325, the Act required a felony case to be tried within one year if the defendant is confined in jail. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Weekly What’s That

Emergency Clause

The emergency clause is a provision included as part of a bill in the Oklahoma Legislature that allows it to become effective immediately upon the signature of the Governor or at a specified date. Emergency clauses require approval by two-thirds of the members of both chambers and are voted on separately and subsequently to the vote approving a measure. A law cannot become effective fewer than 90 days after sine die adjournment without an emergency clause. The one exception is the General Appropriations bill, which can take effect on July 1st without an emergency clause and by a simple majority. As a result of State Question 640, a revenue bill, as defined under Article V, Section 33 of the Constitution, cannot contain an emergency clause.

Standard emergency clause language reads as follows: It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.

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

Quote of the Week

“Frankly, we need more officials who are interested in the state’s long-term well-being, rather than chasing the quick political sugar high from a tax cut during a re-election cycle.”

– Shiloh Kantz, executive director of OK Policy, wrote in her column addressing the need for Oklahoma politicians who prioritize people over politics. [Journal Record]

Op-Ed of the Week

Opinion: Oklahoma’s punishment-based probation system only speeds up incarceration

Trapped within the tangled web of Oklahoma’s probation system, I have felt the crushing weight of its injustices firsthand, revealing a system that promises rehabilitation but delivers only oppression and recidivism. I cannot overstate the challenges and injustices that pervade this often-overlooked aspect of our criminal justice system, leaving individuals like myself trapped in an extended cycle of punishment.

Before I was incarcerated, I spent 10 years in a probationary system that seemed designed to trip me up at every turn. From exorbitant fees and fines to regular drug tests, check-ins and curfews, the conditions of probation often felt like a setup for failure rather than a genuine opportunity for rehabilitation. Also, it created high levels of stress for me while I was trying to get employment and housing.

The financial aspect of my probation through mandatory fines, court costs and probation fees was an exceptionally heavy weight to carry and led to financial and psychological stress. In addition to my monthly probation and restitution fees, I had court fines and fees that totaled more than $5,000. I tried to keep up with payments, but because I could only obtain a minimum-wage job due to my background, I found myself frequently falling behind on my payments.

Additionally, I could not afford to get my driver’s license reinstated. Still, I needed transportation to keep my job, so I had to decide to drive without a license to keep my job or risk losing my only source of income. Eventually, this decision made in an attempt to stay on top of my fines and fees ultimately resulted in my getting rearrested — the exact opposite of what probation says it is trying to do.

The lack of adequate support and resources for individuals on probation makes successful reentry an uphill battle. Many individuals struggle to access essential services such as housing, health care and employment assistance, leaving them vulnerable to the same circumstances that led to their involvement in the criminal justice system in the first place.

For me, the fear of missing payments, combined with the stresses of a drug-infested work environment and being unable to find stable housing, led me to self-medicate with substances. Individual programs, like the Center for Employment Opportunities, can provide much needed support with things like job readiness, transitional jobs and advanced training. However, if I had had access to a comprehensive reentry program to help me with rehabilitation, I would have been more successful in completing probation the first time.

The pressure of probation requirements forced me into situations where I had to make choices just to survive, even if they meant breaking the law. When I was released after being incarcerated in 2023, I was no longer on probation and was able to freely think about the steps I needed to take to rebuild my life. I also wasn’t expected to pay any fees for the first six months of my release, which really allowed me to focus on getting a job with the help of the Center for Employment Opportunities and become self-sufficient.

From my personal experience, the weight of probation felt like a continuous battle with mental health struggles, akin to being incarcerated while still out in the world. It felt like an algorithm of punishment instead of reformation and served as a constant surveillance and reminder of past mistakes rather than a bridge to rehabilitation and reintegration. I am now a resource navigator at the Justice Link. In this role, I see clients facing the same pressures; just the mention of a warrant sends them into a panic, highlighting the profound impact of the justice system on their mental well-being.

It is time for Oklahoma to reckon with the failings of this system and embrace a more humane and effective approach to criminal justice. This begins with addressing the root causes of crime, investing in community-based resources and support services, shortening Oklahoma’s unusually long probation sentences, (which average 42 months, making them one of the longest in the country) and ending punitive practices that only perpetuate cycles of poverty, trauma and incarceration.

Oklahomans must recognize that true justice is not achieved through punishment alone but through compassion, rehabilitation and restoring dignity and opportunity for everyone.

[Tiffani Shaw / Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Week

  • 17% – Percentage of individuals experiencing homelessness in Oklahoma who were families with at least one child. The overall number of homeless families increased by about 14% in comparison to last year, but none were found to be sleeping outside. [OKC Point in Time Report]
  • 186% – Large landlords filed evictions 186 percent more often and medium landlords filed 55 percent more often than small landlords, according to a study of evictions in Boston from 2003 to 2017. [Housing Matters]
  • 96% – Percentage of residential land in Oklahoma City that is zoned only for detached single-family homes. [OK Policy]
  • 55 – Number of anti-LGBTQ bills identified in the Oklahoma Legislature, as of May 31, 2024. Oklahoma had the largest number of such bills nationwide, and Oklahoma bills represented more than 1 in 10 of the 515 anti-LGBTQ bills being tracked nationwide. [ACLU]
  • 39.3% – Share of Oklahoma immigrants who are naturalized U.S. citizens. Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a lawful permanent resident after meeting the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act. [American Immigration Council]

What We’re Reading

  • Debunking the Myth of the ‘Migrant Crime Wave’: In the past few months, politicians and certain media outlets have latched on to a narrative that recent immigrants, especially undocumented ones, are causing spikes in crime. Instead of gathering data and examining the issue empirically, they are making this broad assertion based on highly publicized individual incidents of crime by undocumented immigrants. The research does not support the view that immigrants commit crime or are incarcerated at higher rates than native-born Americans. In fact, immigrants might have less law enforcement contact compared to nonimmigrants. Focusing on the facts is imperative, especially given that immigration has become a top issue for voters ahead of the election. [Brennan Center for Justice]


Annie Taylor joined OK Policy as a Digital Communications Associate/Storybanker in April 2022. She studied journalism and mass communication at the University of Oklahoma, and was a member of the Native American Journalists Association. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Strategic Communications from the University of Central Oklahoma. While pursuing her degree, she worked in restaurant and retail management, as well as freelance copywriting and digital content production. Annie is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, and holds a deep reverence for storytelling in the digital age. She was born and raised in southeast Oklahoma, and now lives in Oklahoma City with her dog, Melvin.