prison system

Americans like to think of our country as the land of the free — but that's not the case for everyone: More than 2 million Americans are in jails or prisons in the U.S.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Every day, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh sits at his desk and tries to make a severely overcrowded, understaffed prison system work.

“I’ve been preoccupied with trying to figure out where we’re going to put all these people because we’re way over capacity,” Allbaugh said.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma City Council heard public testimony Tuesday on an ordinance that would eliminate jail terms and reduce fines for possession of marijuana and some drug paraphernalia.

If the proposed ordinance is adopted, Oklahoma City’s punishments for marijuana possession would fall from a maximum $1,200 fine and up to six months in jail to a maximum fine of $400 with no jail time. Police would also cite people up to $200 for having some types of drug paraphernalia.

Pennsylvania ordered a lockdown Wednesday of its entire state prison system after a number of staffers became ill from suspected exposure to tainted synthetic drugs, an incident that comes as five inmates have died from overdoses in Arkansas and dozens were sickened in Ohio under similar circumstances.

State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said the cautionary move was aimed at ensuring the "safety and security of our employees" after multiple illnesses among prison staff in recent weeks.

Updated at 11:35 p.m. ET

Inmates at prisons across the U.S. are expected to stage a weeks-long strike beginning Tuesday to demand better living conditions and prison reform.

Organizers say the demonstrations — including hunger strikes and a refusal to work — are in response to a riot in April at South Carolina's Lee Correctional Institution in which seven inmates died.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Frank Taylor moved to Taft, Oklahoma from California six years ago, his friends asked how he could live in a town of about 300 people right next to two prisons. He laughed it off. 

“I got two big pit bulls,” Taylor said. 

Taylor says the small Oklahoma town is a place where he thought he could leave his doors unlocked. His home, near the center of town, is less than a mile from one of the prisons, Jess Dunn Correctional Center.

The minimum-security men’s prison has a problem.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

If you follow your nose to the back of Boots Cafe, you’ll run into swinging wood doors hanging underneath a metal script sign of the word ‘Blessed.’

Inside, you’ll find the kitchen and a staff of two, including owner Sylvia Wilson who immediately recites the days special: “We got loaded baked potatoes today, we got lasagna and salad …”

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

It’s been three weeks since Sarah Sinkinson last saw her children and she’s ready for a visit from her daughter, Madeline. Sinkinson lights up as her daughter is escorted into a small visitation room and sits down at a desk opposite her.

By some accounts, nearly half of America's incarcerated population is mentally ill — and journalist Alisa Roth argues that most aren't getting the treatment they need.

Roth has visited jails in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta and a rural women's prison in Oklahoma to assess the condition of mentally ill prisoners. She says correctional officers are on the "front lines" of mental health treatment — despite the fact that they lack clinical training.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections was a frequent topic for lawmakers during this year’s legislative session. The department was given an additional $8.75 million to balance its books for fiscal year 2018 and more than $517 million for fiscal year 2019 that began July 1. 

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