Rising racial disparities in Okla. prison admissions, particularly from Tulsa, pose heightened risk for Black Oklahomans who are incarcerated
The report provides an analysis of the most recently available prison admissions data from March through June 2020 and finds that Black Oklahomans were disproportionately admitted to prison at even higher levels than usual, even though Oklahoma already has the nation’s second highest Black imprisonment rate. This rise in the Black admissions rate came soon after DOC announced in March that they would work with local Sheriffs to stop new admissions from county jails across the state.
In June, more than 300 people — including 101 Black people — were admitted to DOC custody as COVID-19 spread behind bars. An inordinate proportion of people sent to prison at this time came from Tulsa County, 53.5% compared to 14% in a typical month.
“Oklahoma has the second highest rate of Black imprisonment in the U.S., and now the proportion of prison admissions for Black Oklahomans has increased by about 44%,” said Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, executive director and founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation. “Racial disparities are already unacceptable — and seeing them widen has a profound human cost during the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 is compounding the inequities that already exist and Black people across the country are dying at higher rates.”
Incarcerated people have far higher positive rates for COVID-19 than the state average. More than a quarter of the incarcerated population tested for the virus in Oklahoma were positive over the last nine months, leading to 36 deaths likely caused by COVID-19.
“Overcrowding, among other conditions, makes it nearly impossible to practice social distancing, maintain proper sanitation, and control the spread of COVID-19 in Oklahoma’s prisons,” said Shanna Gong, Oklahoma state director at FWD.us. “With Black and incarcerated people at heightened risk of COVID-19, growing racial disparities are especially troubling. Officials need to do all they can to reverse this trend.”
“Public safety and health experts have recommended lowering prison populations as a crucial tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons. Oklahoma should follow the lead of states like Arkansas and Kentucky by safely reducing the prison population and preventing the senseless loss of lives. We demand justice for Black Oklahomans who are impacted by the criminal justice system,” said Dr. Crutcher.