Oklahoma ScissorTales: Why not a regional jail system?
In late March, the Nowata County sheriff and most of her staff resigned rather than follow a judge’s order to return inmates to the jail, which the sheriff said didn’t meet constitutional standards. Soon after, the interim sheriff said renovations were underway in many parts of the building.
Here’s another idea: Close the jail for good and don’t reopen or rebuild.
Why does Nowata County, population about 10,000, need a jail? Just 20 miles west is Bartlesville (pop. 36,000), home to the Washington County Correctional Facility that opened seven years ago. It housed Nowata County’s inmates briefly in early March, apparently with no issues, as the problems in the neighboring county unfolded.
Those problems included high levels of carbon monoxide that sickened staff and inmates. In resigning, the former sheriff rattled off a list of unresolved problems that included no fire alarm system, mold, and methane seeping through sewer lines.
The Oklahoman has written many times through the years that Oklahoma needs to consider moving to a regional jail system. It made sense at statehood and for decades after, when travel was a challenge, to have a jail in each of the 77 counties. That’s not the case today, however, and hasn’t been for a long time.
A regional jail system would cost some people their jobs, which is the main reason why the idea never goes anywhere. But taxpayers might appreciate the change.
Bill offers progress on testing of rape kits
Legislation signed recently by Gov. Kevin Stitt represents progress on efforts to reduce Oklahoma’s backlog of untested rape kits. Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, has led the way in the Legislature to address the backlog, which stands at roughly 7,200. Floyd’s Senate Bill 967 will create a central repository, available to law enforcement and medical officials, that includes information taken from rape kits. Floyd says a task force created in 2017 found that law enforcement agencies were using tracking systems that weren’t compatible with other systems. A system created by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation will track a kit’s location and whether it’s been processed. Victims will also be able to track the status of their kits. Law enforcement agencies, forensic labs and medical providers will be required to use the system by Jan. 1.
Biden makes an early impression in polls
Democratic voters are happy that former Vice President Joe Biden has decided to seek the party’s nomination for president in 2020. Biden formally declared his candidacy late last week. A poll by CNN conducted shortly after the announcement showed Biden was the top choice of 39% of voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents. That was 11 percentage points higher than a similar poll in March, and placed Biden well ahead of No. 2 choice Bernie Sanders, who had 15% support. In third was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 8%. The poll did find that 64% of potential Democratic voters said they could still change their minds. And, we’re nine months away — an eternity — from the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. But Biden is off to a good start.
Predictable result in abortion medication case
No one should have been terribly surprised by an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling this week regarding abortion. The bigger surprise might have been if the court had allowed a 2014 law to stand. That law, House Bill 2684, required doctors to follow a medical abortion process approved by federal regulators in 2000. The Food and Drug Administration updated its protocol in 2016, but HB 2684 still required doctors to follow the old procedure. In its 7-1 decision, the state Supreme Court said following the older standard would significantly impede a woman’s right to choose to end a pregnancy. The court was criticized by some Republican lawmakers. But the justices are obliged to follow the laws of the land, and all too often in the past several years the Legislature has produced abortion-related bills that have left the court with little choice but to strike them down.
An effort to curb prison cell phone problem
Oklahoma Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh has spoken often about the problems presented by contraband cell phones. He has an ally in Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. In remarks on the Senate floor this week, Lankford urged colleagues to pass legislation that would let prisons jam cell phone transmission, something that’s not allowed under federal law. Lankford said 7,518 phones were confiscated in Oklahoma prisons last year. He said in one case, an inmate used smuggled phones to direct a meth distribution operation in northeastern Oklahoma. Lankford says Congress for years has opted to conduct studies on the issue, with the most recent one essentially saying more study was needed. He says action is needed instead, and he’s right. “We have the technology to do this,” Lankford said. Technology is one thing, willingness is another.
Upside down, with no sign of improvement
The new governor of Connecticut wants to double down on the high-tax practices that have sent residents fleeing for the past many years. Connecticut’s tax burden is second-highest in the country, thanks in part to two large tax increases signed by former Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy during his two terms. Now Malloy’s successor, Democrat Ned Lamont, is proposing toll roads on four highways, to generate $800 million per year. Lamont says 30-40 percent would come from out-of-state drivers, but as commodities analyst Ryan Fazio noted in City Journal, a resident who commutes 250 weekdays per year between New Haven and Hartford would be dinged $860 to do so. “There is no end in sight to the tax-and-spend cycle in a state that has failed to confront a $68 billion unfunded pension liability for its government employees …” Fazio writes. “If tolling gantries go up on Connecticut’s highways, they will stand as monuments to profligate governance.”