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prisons

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

More than 30 people sit uncomfortably on hard, wooden benches under the watchful eyes of Judge Tim Henderson. It’s late morning in Henderson’s courtroom at the Oklahoma County courthouse. Some people have been waiting for hours.

Most of these people are on probation, and they’re anxiously waiting for their chance to make a deal. Judge Henderson says these people broke their plea agreements.

Every new male inmate in the Oklahoma prison system arrives through this gate at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center in Cleveland County. Blood is drawn from inmates for testing and certain results can lead to further tests for hepatitis C.
Oklahoma Watch

Inmates in Oklahoma prisons must have advanced liver disease before becoming eligible for treatment of hepatitis C, a potentially deadly and growing disease.

The situation in prisons pits the enormous cost of treatment against the public health gains of curing one of the populations most at risk for the viral infection.

prison bars
mikecogh / Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma has one in eight inmates who are serving a life sentence or a sentence of at least 50 years, a new report using 2016 data shows.

Allison Herrera / KOSU

The number of people sentenced to Oklahoma prisons in 2017 fell slightly, but the state remains second in the nation in overall incarceration and could be ranked first by the end of this year.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections data shows that on the last working day of 2017, a total of 28,153 inmates were in state prisons, halfway houses or in jails awaiting transfer to prisons. That was a less than 1 percent decline from the end of 2016.

Reveal: Fire And Justice

Dec 26, 2017
In 1988, two powerful explosions shook Kansas City, Missouri, killing six firefighters. Nine years later, five people were convicted of arson and sent to prison for life – but were they innocent?
Gabriel Hongsdusit / Reveal

In 1988, six firefighters in Kansas City, Missouri, were killed in a blast at a highway construction site. Nine years later, five people were convicted of setting the fires that led to their deaths.

Now, almost 30 years later, Reveal investigates problems in the case. There was no physical evidence linking the five to the crime, and their convictions were based on witness testimony – a lot of it conflicting. 

More than a century old, the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester is a poster child for Oklahoma’s deteriorating prison system. Even the sign at its entry gate, with its missing letters, speaks to the infrastructure degradation and other problems insi
Ben Botkin / Oklahoma Watch

Padlocks are welded onto cell doors at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for when the electronic locks fail.

The state’s three prisons for women are at 129 percent of capacity, meaning inmates must sleep in temporary bunk beds in day rooms.

Shelves with thousands of inmate files jam what once was a basketball court at the Kate Barnard Correctional Center. It’s the backup for a three-decade-old software program used for recordkeeping.

Let Down And Locked Up: Why Oklahoma’s Female Incarceration Is So High

Sep 20, 2017
Robyn Allen, 52, is serving 20 years at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in central Oklahoma for trafficking of methamphetamine. This was her first felony offense.
Glassbreaker Films

Robyn Allen saw her daughter for the first time in two years from across the yard of Oklahoma’s largest women’s prison, the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center.

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.

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.

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

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to place caps on how much inmates in jails and prisons can be charged for making phone calls.

The new caps will help inmates and their families, many of whom struggle with finances because of poverty or the loss of a breadwinner, and help them stay in touch with each other, said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who championed the rule.

“The system is inequitable. It has preyed upon our most vulnerable for far too long. Families are being further torn apart and the cycle of poverty is being perpetuated,” Clyburn said.

President Obama tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution on July 16, 2015
Kate Carlton Greer / KGOU

Federal inmates who met with President Barack Obama at an Oklahoma prison during the filming of a documentary in July are hopeful the show will influence policymakers.

About 50 inmates gathered at the El Reno federal prison Wednesday to watch the premiere of Fixing the System, a Vice on HBO special report.

The Obama administration Friday is taking a small step toward expanding adult prisoners' access to federal Pell grants. The money would help pay for college-level classes behind bars.

Wesley Fryer / Flickr

Governor Mary Fallin signed legislation Monday allowing judicial discretion for a number of nonviolent crimes.

House Bill 1518, known as the Justice Safety Valve Act, permits judges to lessen mandatory minimum sentences when the term is “not necessary for the protection of the public” and could “result in substantial injustice to the defendant.”  

The latest figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show Oklahoma has the highest rate of prison homicides in the nation, with state inmates killed at a rate more than three times the national average.

The figures reviewed by The Associated Press as part of a months-long investigation show 39 homicides at Oklahoma prisons between 2001 and 2012, a rate of 14 per 100,000 inmates. The second highest rate is Maryland with 11 homicides per 100,000. The national average is 4 per 100,000.

Wesley Fryer / Flickr

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton plans to meet this week or next with Pardon and Parole Interim Director Jari Askins to discuss the possible early release of certain nonviolent offenders due to prison overcrowding.

The Board of Corrections approved a recalculation of the prison system’s capacity Thursday, showing the state’s facilities are now at 116 percent of capacity.

Yumi Kimura / Flickr.com

Police in Tulsa say an escaped Oklahoma state prison inmate has been recaptured following a short chase.

Police told reporters that 24-year-old Christopher Rowe was arrested Wednesday night in north Tulsa after an officer spotted him driving a sport utility vehicle and that he led police on a short chase before being stopped and arrested.

prison bars
mikecogh / Flickr Creative Commons

An Oklahoma prison inmate who walked away from a minimum security facility on New Year's Eve was the fourth inmate to escape from the prison in less than a week.

Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie says 24-year-old Christopher Rowe remained on the loose Tuesday. Massie says officials believe he is in the Tulsa area. The other three inmates who walked away from the John H. Lilley Correctional Center on Dec. 27 were returned to the Okfuskee County facility within a day.

Oklahoma County

County jails are inadequate holding facilities for those with long-term criminal sentences, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton said Wednesday during an interim study.

A report prepared by House staffer Joshua Maxey said the daily required payment by the DOC to the counties is $27 per day plus medical costs for each inmate. 

The total money paid by the DOC in fiscal year 2013, he said, was $26.3 million. The costs covered 1,700 inmates currently awaiting transfer to DOC facilities.

As of this month, there is a backlog of 240 inmates.

DOC Discussing Possible Nursing Home For Aging Prison Population

Oct 28, 2014
Tim (Timothy) Pearce / Flickr.com

The Department of Corrections has begun preliminary talks with a nursing home operator concerning the possibility of contracting with a facility to house aging state inmates, the Senate Public Safety Committee was told Tuesday.

Dr. William Cooper, the department’s chief medical officer, said the department was approached by a nursing home operations firm about the possibility of contracting with the department. The discussions are in the very early stages.

The death chamber at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Oklahoma prison officials have spent more than $106,000 renovating the death chamber inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

The Department of Corrections is allowing members of the media inside the prison's maximum-security H-unit on Thursday to see the new room.

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