Oklahoma CURE

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Oklahoma prison population level could mean early release for some inmates

Jan 10, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

They are only talking about non-violent people that are close to being released anyway. Not lifers or other older folks that haven’t had a write up 10, 15 & 20 years, that have earn a 2nd chance. That could save taxpayers money with beds and with medical care. Life means Life with the chance for parole if you have changed not life and throw away the key.

By Graham Lee Brewer | January 8, 2015

The Oklahoma prison system is well over inmate capacity, which could give the state Parole Board the authority to give early parole consideration to nonviolent inmates, a corrections official said Thursday.

State prison facilities, including community corrections and inmate work centers, are at 116 percent capacity, Laura Pittman, deputy director of institutions, told the Oklahoma Board of Corrections. State prisons alone are at 119 percent capacity. The state’s overall prison population is more than 28,000.

“I want everybody to really let those figures soak in,” board member Linda Neal responded. “That we are at 116 percent in state beds, but we are funded for 67 percent in staffing. That is a, well, it’s a formula for disaster, as we all know who are sitting in this room.”

According to state law, once the prison population is over capacity the state Pardon and Parole Board can begin considering nonviolent offenders for parole who are within 6 months of their release dates. Director Robert Patton said he will meet with state Pardon and Parole Board Interim Director Jari Askins in the next two weeks to discuss possible implementation of the law.

Askins said Thursday that part of her meeting with Patton will include how to identify eligible inmates so reports on them can be prepared for the parole board to review.

The state Corrections Department is putting the finishing touches on a staffing report, Patton told reporters after the meeting, which will give his agency a comprehensive look at staffing levels and efficiencies in state prisons. The report was recommended in a state inspector’s audit of the state Corrections Department released in July.

Patton said he plans to ask the Legislature for additional state funds to staff those facilities at 100 percent, but also recognizes that low pay levels create difficulties in hiring.

“Especially in some of the rural areas and areas surrounded with the oil fields,” Patton said. “Yeah, it’s tough to recruit with our salaries.”

Correctional officers were given an 8 percent pay increase in July, their first raise in eight years, but officers still start at less than $13 per hour.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Sean Wallace, executive director of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals. “We applaud the agency and we applaud (State Inspector) Gary Jones for making it an issue. I think this is an accurate reflection of where we are.”

Some facilities have staffing levels that are well below the 67 percent the agency is funded for, Wallace said. He said the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite is staffed at 54 percent, according to documents provided to him by the state Corrections Department.

Wallace said he hopes the figures released Thursday will illustrate to the Legislature the need for change in the corrections system.

“It’s hard, because they talk about it so many times, and it’s hard to know when talk will become action,” Wallace said.

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