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COVID-19 in Oklahoma Jails and Prisons

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Published 03/18/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 21 sec 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: A group of social justice organizations have concerns that Oklahoma’s over crowded mass incarceration system will become a hot bed for the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, and we agree a co-sign this message.


OKLAHOMA CITY – We call on the Governor of Oklahoma, as well as the Mayors of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, to immediately protect the lives of ALL the people in their communities. Given the State of Oklahoma’s high incarceration rates and inadequate COVID-19 preparations, jails and detention facilities are ripe for rapid spread due to existing deplorable conditions and lack of access to proper hygienic supplies. We are calling for decisive action to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in all communities, especially the most vulnerable among us. We acknowledge and laud the intent behind measures taken recently by the Oklahoma County Commission, but also recognize the reality of such responses as inadequate — perhaps lethally so.

The safest and most effective way to ensure that jails do not become a vector for the spread of COVID-19 is to reduce the number of people incarcerated. Jails should consider pretrial release, release for those whose release was granted but pending payment of bail, and anyone who would otherwise be released but for technical parole, probation, or warrant violations. Release is crucial for those who are elderly, immunocompromised, pregnant, otherwise medically at-risk, or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Additionally, jails should consider release with no bail for those held on nonviolent and municipal warrants in local jails, including those with immigration detainers.

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Another way to reduce the number of people incarcerated is to arrest and detain fewer people. For example, a judge in Bexar County, TX ordered the county to suspend arrests for minor offenses to not crowd the jail during a public health crisis and emergency. This is the example we should be following. Mayors should work with court systems and local law enforcement to encourage exercising discretion to limit arrests and warrants, decline criminal charges, and use non-custodial processes whenever possible. Local authorities should stop collaboration with ICE during this period, although we continue to call for an end to local collaboration period.

Finally, all persons incarcerated in Oklahoma should be provided adequate hygienic products, which include soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, rags, towels, detergent, and 2 5-minute phone calls per week – at no cost. 

In order for us to care for our communities and loved ones during this time, we additionally ask officials to stop evictions, halt utility cutoffs and make COVID-19 testing free and accessible to all who need it. We are at a critical juncture and the time for action is crucial to the wellbeing of our friends, families, neighbors, and perfect strangers. We have to be vigilant about protecting each other to minimize the spread and impact of this virus. Adequate protocols such as those mentioned above WILL help save Oklahomans’ lives.

Signed,

  1. Autonomous Brown Berets of Oklahoma

  2. Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City

  3. Block Builderz

  4. Cathedral of Hope UCC OKC

  5. Central Oklahoma Black Red Alliance

  6. Church of the Open Arms UCC

  7. Civic Services Community Advocacy

  8. Climate Justice Alliance

  9. Community for Immigration Justice

  10. Dream Action Oklahoma

  11. Dream Alliance Oklahoma-Tulsa

  12. Ending Violence Everywhere (EVE)

  13. Foundation for Liberating Minds

  14. Green Country Democratic Socialists

  15. The HOPE initiative

  16. Keep Norman Safe

  17. New Sanctuary Network Tulsa

  18. Norman Citizens for Racial Justice

  19. Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice

  20. Oklahoma Industrial Workers of the World

  21. Oklahoma Objector Community

  22. Oklahoma Peoples Party

  23. The Peace House Oklahoma City

  24. Red Scare Infoshop

  25. Socialist Rifle Association-Tulsa

  26. Solidarity Thru Food Kitchen-STuF

  27. Dr. Zakk Flash with Stewards Resource Center

  28. The Third Space Norman

  29. Uprooted & Rising Norman

  30. Women’s March Oklahoma

  31. The Black Wall Street Times
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