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 /

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.

Michael Harveson
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Editors Note: This is the second in a series of stories reported jointly by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU Radio.  The next Oklahoma Watch story will be published Sunday, and the next KGOU story will be broadcast Monday.

The court fees and fines that many nonviolent criminal offenders in Oklahoma must pay can be bewildering, especially if the offender makes a misstep, such as failing to pay on time.


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

Over the years, Oklahoma has increasingly turned to fines and fees from court cases to pay for the court system itself. But a joint investigation between KGOU and Oklahoma Watch reveals that as many inmates regain their freedom, they’re still imprisoned by mountains of debt. The cost shift is leading some to question the long-term sustainability of a crime-funded judicial branch.

After Prison, Many Offenders Mired In Debt

Feb 1, 2015
Darlene Lorenz, of Tulsa, is paying off about $91,000 in fines and fees related to her  convictions on various drug and firearms charges.
M. Scott Carter / Oklahoma Watch

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories reported jointly by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU. A radio segment will be aired on Monday, and the next story will be published on Tuesday.

Darlene Lorenz was released from prison seven years ago.