Oklahoma Department of Corrections

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.

Matthew Ansley / Unsplash

State prisons are isolating prisoners in their cells to limit opportunities for coronavirus to spread.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections says the new measure, normally reserved to prevent prison violence, is aggressive but necessary. The prison agency says its staff will bring prisoners their food, medicine and other necessities to prevent groups of prisoners from gathering.

Oklahoma prisons are hoping to lessen the strain of the coronavirus by giving prisoners free phone calls. Each prisoner will get two, five-minute phone calls each week starting Wednesday.

The Department of Corrections hopes the free calls will partially make up for the agency’s decision to suspend visits from prisoners’ family and friends. Prison visitors and volunteers were told not to come to state prisons to help prevent a coronavirus outbreak.

The company that provides prisoner phone calls agreed to offer the free service until April 14.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is canceling all visitation and all volunteer access to facilities effective at 6 p.m. today. This decision was made to keep staff, inmates and volunteers safe from the spread of COVID-19 inside the facilities.

DOC says they are taking several proactive preventative steps, including screening all new inmate arrivals for symptoms of COVID-19 and suspending all inmate security movements, with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma prison employees are among the lowest paid in the nation. Last year, state lawmakers tried to help with a pay increase, but some people got the raise and others didn’t.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

A popular desire for reform led lawmakers to push the release of hundreds of people from Oklahoma prisons in a record commutation last year. The climactic event was born from a series of reforms that have moved Oklahoma away from the number one spot for incarceration. But, that progress might be temporary.

Nearly 500 Oklahoma prison inmates walked free on Monday, Nov. 4, in an effort by the state to lose the title of the nation's incarceration capital. Oklahoma's incarceration rate in 2018 led the nation, with 1,079 per 100,000 people behind bars, according to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative.

This Week in Oklahoma Politics, KOSU's Michael Cross talks with Republican Political Consultant Neva Hill and ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel about the announcement by Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson to retire from the position effective at the end of next year, AG Mike Hunter announces the state is hiring a Michigan law firm for $250,000 to deal with tribal gaming compacts and the Department of Corrections locks down state prisons after gang-related violence kills one inmate and injures dozens of others.

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