corrections

Gov. Mary Fallin delivers her 2016 State of the State address before Monday's joint session of the Oklahoma House and Senate.
Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin proposed bold changes to Oklahoma's budget, the criminal justice system, and said she wants lawmakers to get behind a $3,000 pay raise for teachers during her 2016 State of the State address.

The $900 million-and-counting budget shortfall lawmakers will have to deal with hangs over everything this session, but Fallin remained optimistic even as she cited a two-year, 70 percent drop in oil prices that's affected state revenue.

"We can do it," the governor repeated.

State Officials Go To Court To Challenge FCC Cap On Inmate Phone Call Fees

Jan 31, 2016
The Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

The state of Oklahoma and state law enforcement officials are challenging a recent Federal Communications Commission rule that caps the amount of money prisoners and their families are charged for telephone calls.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ interim director Joe Allbaugh, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association filed a petition on Jan. 25, via Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, requesting the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidate a ratings cap on inmate phone costs passed by the FCC in October.

The Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington.
Ben Fenwick / Oklahoma Watch

Despite efforts to reduce incarceration, Oklahoma's prison population is growing at a defiantly steady pace.

The trend includes a surge of hundreds of state inmates being held in county jails and the rate of women in prison reaching its highest recorded level.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections data show that since late 2014, a year when early-release policies were relaxed to help reduce incarceration, the number of inmates in corrections facilities has increased by nearly 1,200, reaching 28,095 near the end of 2015. The total also rose throughout 2014.

Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Issacson, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin during Tuesday night's panel discussion.
The Aspen Institute / YouTube

Gov. Mary Fallin joined three fellow Republican chief executives in Colorado Tuesday night to discuss what's working in their states.

James Alexander, who suffers from bipolar II disorder, spends 23 hours a day in lockdown in the Tulsa County jail.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Before he was locked up in the Tulsa County jail, James Alexander lived in a hole in the ground.

That hole was under Interstate 44 in east Tulsa, and there he slept, ate and stored his belongings, including food he had stolen from nearby stores. He lived with depression related to bipiolar II disorder.

In jail for nearly two years since, Alexander, 30, now has a stable life. He is locked up 23 hours a day but gets steady meals. He is offered medication but refuses to take it.

His red beard is wiry and his fingernails long and yellowed.

Tim (Timothy) Pearce / Flickr.com

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections currently has 99 offenders categorized as fugitives, but most of those are from work-release programs, halfway houses or GPS monitoring.

Several Oklahoma fugitives, however, have escaped from medium- or maximum-security facilities, and some have been living on the run for decades.

Those include:

Kenneth Cook, now 85, convicted of first-degree manslaughter, who escaped from the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite on Nov. 24, 1986;

Oklahoma State Capitol
mrlaugh / Flickr

The 55th Oklahoma Legislature wrapped up its first session a little over two weeks ago on May 22, one week ahead of the constitutionally required deadline to adjourn.

Lawmakers passed bond issues for widely publicized museums in both Oklahoma City and Tulsa. But the $611 million shortfall in the state budget dominated the conversation from January to May, even though details of the $7.1 billion agreement didn't emerge until shortly before the gavel fell. To plug that gap, lawmakers cut most agency budgets by five to seven percent, and also used monies from the state's Rainy Day Fund and state agency revolving accounts.

Dr. Janna Morgan, who directs the mental health services unit for the Corrections Department, has had to travel to prisons to conduct therapy sessions herself because of a shortage of mental-health staff.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Despite rising numbers of mentally ill prisoners, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has slashed by nearly half its group therapy programs and pared back individual therapy for inmates, resulting in fewer offenders receiving preventive treatment.

The department’s psychologists, psychiatrists and related staff members instead are focusing on crisis intervention, reacting to things like suicide attempts and erratic or violent behavior.

More than 1.3 million people are incarcerated in state prisons in this country, and keeping those prisons running requires tens of thousands of corrections officers. But right now, some states are facing major staffing shortages.

Much of this shortfall is because of the strong economy, but recruiters also are struggling with the job's cultural stigma.

Cadets at Wyoming's Department of Corrections Training Academy are practicing how they'll handcuff prisoners. In a few weeks this scenario will be very real, but right now everyone is pretty relaxed.

Oklahoma District Attorney's Council, District 12

Editor's Note: This is one installment of a series of stories reported jointly by KGOU and Oklahoma Watch. 

For more than two decades, Oklahoma has turned to fines and fees instead of state appropriations to fund the court system, and the debt former prisoners now face has becoming increasingly burdensome as the state has grown more and more reluctant to raise taxes.

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