The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation will be required to investigate all deaths in Oklahoma’s prisons and jails under a bill that passed through the state senate on Monday.
State Sen. A.J. Griffin, R-Guthrie, who authored Senate Bill 250, said she wants to understand why the state is losing people who are incarcerated.
“Anytime we have a vulnerable population, I think it’s important for us to take a systemic look,” she said.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Oklahoma is tied with Mississippi for the sixth highest inmate mortality rate in the nation.
Journal Record reporter Catherine Sweeney reports officials from the OSBI raised some concerns, saying the agency is stretched thin already.
“We’re already overburdened with what we have,” said Jessica Brown, the OSBI’s public information officer and legislative liaison.
There are about 65 agents who are in the field, handling cases and not supervising, she said. Each one of them juggles about 20 investigations at a time, and the topic matter ranges from white-collar crime to homicides.
Brown said Oklahoma County already brings in the OSBI for its deaths. Many city police departments do so as well, according to Oklahoma Association Chiefs of Police executive director Phil Cotton, who says deaths in small facilities with one or two cells are very rare.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections sends investigations of state prison death to its own office of inspector general.
Instead of taking those investigations and any others and adding them onto the OSBI’s caseload, bureau officials have recommended organizing a group similar to the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, which compiles statistics and analyses into annual reports.
SB250 passed 45 to 0. It now goes to a House committee.