corrections

mikecogh / Flickr.com

Oklahoma’s Board of Corrections unanimously approved leasing a private prison in Sayre and consolidating 15 work release centers across the state Thursday, a decision that left many legislators scrambling and upset.

Under the five-year contract, the Department of Correction would transfer roughly 1200 inmates from the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite to North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre. Inmates in work release programs across the state would be relocated to Granite.

prison bars
Pixabay / (CC0 1.0)

Editor's note: The House gave final legislative approval to this bill on a 90-0 vote Monday, and it now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin's desk.

A bill moving through the Oklahoma Legislature could allow many non-violent misdemeanor offenders to avoid a lengthy stay in county jail.

But it comes with a catch: Inmates would have to volunteer their work for free.

The program could save the counties money, but some inmate advocates cite a risk that it could lead to exploitation of inmates with loose oversight at county levels.

Justus Skyler Cobbs gets up from a table after talking with his grandmother Debbie Chastain at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center , Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Lexington, Okla.
Sarah Phipps / The Oklahoman

Each morning, Justus Skyler Cobbs wakes up inside the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ mental health unit, housed inside Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma. Here, the 21-year-old receives regular mental health care. He says it is the best he has ever gotten. The reasons why he likes the care are simple.

"(They) sit down and listen to me. Actually let me talk. Tell them how I feel. They don’t pressure me into doing stuff or anything like that."

State Representative Pam Peterson
okhouse.gov

The House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee passed legislation this morning that would increase the value of some property crimes before they could be prosecuted as felonies. The measure is part of a package of bills Governor Mary Fallin proposed. 

Under the legislation by State Representative Pam Peterson, the threshold for property theft crimes would be raised to $1,000 for a felony.

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;

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