Oklahoma Department of Corrections

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There are signs COVID-19 is spreading in Oklahoma's county jails. Over 100 prisoners have tested positive in Comanche County and one state prisoner sent to Grady County died from the disease. But, it’s still unclear how far the illness has spread in jails, because testing is limited.

OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is taking in an unspecified number of prisoners from the Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton. The prison system is trying to separate the county jail’s healthy prisoners from those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

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As the state Pardon and Parole Board prepares to consider 14 releases on Wednesday, reform advocates are petitioning the state of Oklahoma to reduce the prison population and release prisoners who are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Jonna Wolf is worried there are a lot more than the two COVID-19 cases being reported in Oklahoma’s population of nearly 24,000 prisoners.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Prisons across the United States are struggling with a rash of COVID-19 infections. In Oklahoma, two prisoners and nine corrections employees have tested positive for the disease.

StateImpact’s Quinton Chandler spoke with Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow about the state’s ability to test for COVID-19 in prisons.

A former state prisoner was released from William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply, Oklahoma on April 22, before the state prison agency knew he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The infected man was tested just two days before his release, following a new Department of Corrections initiative that launched on April 20 to test every prisoner before their release date. According to a news release, the man had no symptoms before he left the prison.

Flickr / Wesley Fryer

A nonprofit news organization reports the number of COVID-19 cases in U.S. prisons more than tripled in one week, but Oklahoma still counts only nine employees and two prisoners as testing positive.

The coronavirus pandemic is hurting state revenues and public safety agencies in Oklahoma are preparing for a potential 3 percent cut to their budgets in the next fiscal year.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections could lose more than $16 million dollars. To adjust, the agency is considering moving prisoners out of private prisons into temporary holding areas in state prisons.

Corrections director Scott Crow told legislators this week they would also still have around $4 million meant to pay for prisoner Hepatitis C treatment.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt’s office mistakenly announced that 404 state prisoners would be released on Thursday by order of the governor.

Many of the prisoners applied to have their prison sentences shortened in response to a recent law change that reduced the punishment for their crimes.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Coronavirus is circulating in state prisons.

So far, five Department of Corrections employees and one prisoner have tested positive for Covid-19.

The agency broke the news on the positive prisoner test and four of its employees on Tuesday. One staff member who works at Joseph Harp Correctional Center tested positive last week.

The infected prisoner is incarcerated at Jackie Brannon Correctional Center in McAlester.

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