Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.

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Oklahoma Watch
8:00 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

Under Bill, Tougher Fines, Penalty For Cattle Rustling Than Assault

Credit Rubias Galegas / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma's House Criminal Justice and Corrections committee narrowly passed a measure Wednesday that would make fines and sentences for cattle theft steeper than they are for aggravated assault.

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Oklahoma Watch
8:16 am
Tue February 24, 2015

What The State Spends On Travel, Memberships And ‘Swag’

Preston Doerflinger, Office of State Finance.
Credit Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Facing a budget hole of more than $611 million, state lawmakers said they're looking everywhere for revenue to fill that hole.

On Friday, Governor Fallin's finance secretary, Preston Doerflinger, said he may have found a source of savings: agency travel costs, agencies' memberships to other organizations and agency promotional and events expenses, or what his office calls "swag."

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Oklahoma Watch
6:03 am
Tue February 24, 2015

Released Offenders Face High Fees For Driver’s Licenses

John Atkinson, who was released from OKlahoma County Jail after serving time on drug and weapons charges, must pay $3,000 to get his driver's license restored. Until then, he is relying on family and friends for transportation.
Clifton Adcock Oklahoma Watch

Editor's Note: This is the sixth installment in a series reported jointly by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU Radio.

When offenders leave prison to re-enter society, one of the steepest barriers they face is finding a job.

Then they encounter a second barrier: paying hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees to reinstate a driver’s license so they can look for and keep a job.

Oklahomans who lose a license because of failing to pay a traffic fine or appear in court on the matter may have to pay several hundred dollars to restore the license.

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Oklahoma Watch
7:39 pm
Wed February 18, 2015

Judicial System Budget Cuts May Hurt System That Funds Courts, Other Agencies

Credit Credit Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma’s judicial system is among those facing budget a budget cut this year, raising questions about whether it would be able to collect as much in court fines and fees that help fund other state agencies.

In February, Gov. Mary Fallin called on lawmakers to cut the budgets of most state agencies, including the judiciary, by 6.25 percent. Fallin’s budget would have cut funding to the Supreme Court by $455,694, to the Court of Criminal Appeals by $226,887 and to the district courts by $3,474,769.

However, since Fallin’s budget was released, state officials announced the budget gap has doubled the original projections, to $611.3 million, and bigger spending cuts are expected.

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Politics and Government
4:59 pm
Wed February 18, 2015

House Education Committee Vote On AP U.S. History Draws Nationwide Attention

Brian Hardzinski KGOU

Updated 12:20 p.m.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman (R-Fairview) says no decision has been made about whether or not a controversial bill that directs the State Board of Education to adopt a new program to replace the Advanced Placement U.S. history course and test will be heard by the full chamber.

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Prisoners Of Debt
7:54 am
Wed February 18, 2015

Prison Bankers Exact Fees, Profits From Families

A debit card that holds the value of a trust fund account. Inmates must pay fees to use the card.
M. Scott Carter Oklahoma Watch

In Oklahoma’s prison system, inmates spend millions of dollars a year from their trust, accounts, buying canteen items and paying restitution, fines and other costs.

Much of that money comes from family members.  They deposit funds into inmates’ “trust fund” accounts that are part of the Department of Corrections’ offender banking system.

They also pay a price for that giving.

Two private companies that provide banking services in prisons under state contract tack on fees, and family members say those fees, paid over time, are onerous.

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Education
7:28 am
Mon February 16, 2015

Oklahoma Committee To Discuss Education Standards To Replace Common Core

timlewisnm Flickr Creative Commons

A trio of experts in education standards will deliver presentations to a steering committee responsible for helping develop new academic standards in Oklahoma.

The steering committee was formed after the Legislature repealed Common Core. The hearing is delayed by a few hours due to Monday morning's winter storm.

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Prisoners of Debt
6:55 am
Sun February 15, 2015

In Prison Or Jail, The Price Of Making Calls

Credit Oklahoma Watch

Editor's Note: this is the fourth in a series of stories reported jointly by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU Radio. KGOU reporter Kate Carlton Greer’s next report will air on Monday.

In Oklahoma, residential telephone service costs anywhere from $10 to $30 a month.

A pre-paid cell phone plan with eight hours of calls can cost $35 a month, or seven cents a minute. There is no charge to activate the service.

In prison or jail, it’s a different story.

Prisoners cannot receive calls, but can make calls with money drawn from telephone accounts created and funded by family members or friends – a service offered by a for-profit vendor. Each call costs $3 for up to 15 minutes, or at least 20 cents a minute. If the call is dropped, which some inmates say is common, no refund is given; the inmate must pay for a new call.

Inmates’ families and friends also pay fees to create their individual telephone accounts and per-transaction fees to deposit money into them. Inmates also can call collect at the same rates, but the set-up process can be complicated.

Critics say prisons and jails are gouging offenders and their families. The prices are so high that incarcerated people aren’t in touch with their loved ones, including their children, as often as they should be, advocates say. Such calls preserve social bonds that help many inmates re-enter society and lessen the chances of returning to prison, some experts say.

State and other records show that phone calls in prisons and jails are yielding substantial sums to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and counties.

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Oklahoma Watch
6:48 am
Sat February 14, 2015

Under New Method, State’s High School Grad Rate Is 85 Percent

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.

Oklahoma graduated 85 percent of its high school students in 2012-2013 according to data released by the National Center for Education Statistics Thursday.

That graduation rate ranks Oklahoma 20th nationally, and puts the state ahead of the national average of 81 percent.

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Oklahoma Watch
7:45 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

Oklahoma City School Board Learns Of Tax Plan After Council Vote

The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education.
Credit Oklahoma City Public Schools

Oklahoma City Public Schools board members say they learned about a city plan to extend the period for redirecting downtown tax revenue away from schools and other purposes only after the City Council voted to go ahead with evaluating the plan.

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