prison system

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is ordering the Secretary of State’s office to accept and count signatures demanding a felony sentencing reform question be added to the ballot this year.

The Secretary of State’s office said it wouldn’t accept more than 260,000 signatures supporting the ballot initiative because the work would put the office at risk of spreading coronavirus.

State Supreme Court justices decided the office hadn’t proven it couldn’t count the signatures safely.

Scottie Edwards died of COVID-19 just weeks before he would have gotten out of the Westville Correctional Facility in Indiana.

Edwards, 73, began showing symptoms of the disease in early April, according to the accounts of three inmates who lived with him in a dormitory. He was short of breath, had chest pain, and could barely talk. He was also dizzy, sweaty and throwing up.

Jobs For Felons Hub / Flickr

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.


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.

The Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton now has 102 prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19. Most of the prisoners who tested positive are reportedly asymptomatic.

The situation has gotten so bad the state health department ordered jail administrator William Hobbs not to take in any more prisoners.

"Saturday I got the order," Hobbs said. "A team shows up to assist us in assessing the situation and start cleanup procedures."

Wesley Fryer / Flickr

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.

The Comanche County Detention Center in Lawton has 18 prisoners and five staff members infected with COVID-19. Now, the state health department is testing all of its jail staff and 345 prisoners.

William Hobbs, the jail administrator, says more cases could be found as the health department ramps up testing.

"They could be negative today and positive two days from now," Hobbs said. "Just because you’re negative (doesn’t) mean you’re clear."

Hobbs says many of the prisoners carrying the disease didn’t show symptoms.

A prisoner in Chickasha has become the first known Oklahoma inmate to die from COVID-19.

52-year-old William Dean Brame, who was awaiting sentencing at the Grady County jail, died from complications of the disease on April 28.

The jail was holding Brame for the federal government after he pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to traffic drugs and launder the proceeds from the illegal sales.

The Oklahoman reports at least one other federal inmate and some detention officers were also infected, but jailers say they have all since recovered.


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.