Oklahoma CURE

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Private prisons have beds available if state has cash

Dec 21, 2014 | by Lynn Powell

This article is exactly what I talked about in the letter to the editor. Oklahoma lawmakers can’t decide how to alleviate overcrowding in the state’s prison system without taking money from other key areas of the state’s budget.The Oklahoma Department of Corrections needs an additional $84.5 million in 2015, half would go toward paying for more beds and the people to staff it. The state agency proposes using $19.4 million of the money to add 1,000 beds in private prisons.

By Megan Sando/Stillwater News Press | Posted 9 hours ago

Oklahoma lawmakers can’t decide how to alleviate overcrowding in the state’s prison system without taking money from other key areas of the state’s budget.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections needs an additional $84.5 million in 2015, half would go toward paying for more beds and the people to staff it. The state agency proposes using $19.4 million of the money to add 1,000 beds in private prisons.

The state must figure out what to do next, before Oklahoma’s corrections are seized by federal control like it was in late ‘70s.

Prison system Director Robert Patton moved in following a lapse in funding that came up “missing” from the previous director, amounting to millions in rainy day funds.

Patton had a plan to move inmates out of county jails, saving $30 million, but it also presented a new problem.

State prisons are operating at a 110 percent capacity.

Thirty minutes from Stillwater is a public-private prison owned by Corrections Corporation of America.

The problem is not that there are no beds, the problem is the state being able to afford it, Prison spokeswoman Cheryl Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker said there has only been “talk” of placing minimum offenders in the prison for six months.

Nothing materialized.

The Diamondback Correctional Facility has 1,100 beds ready to be used.

“Oklahoma needs beds, but cost is the problem,” she said.

Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville, said there’s no way the state can fork up the $84.5 million, and corrections officials must offer cheaper ways to solve the problem.

The prison system was under fire from House Democrats as recently as Friday, for its new policy to move violent offenders, including rapists and murderers, through the system more quickly .

Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said the state agency is failing to protect Oklahoma residents. He suggested DOC pay its correctional officers better “instead of spending shrinking tax dollars on duplicate administrative officers” – such as hiring a communication director when the agency already has a veteran public information officer.

Jerry Massie, veteran PIO for the corrections department, reported to Oklahoma Watch as early as July, that an additional 1,000 beds will be needed next year, which will require more funding.

Massie stated he did know how or when the state would get those beds.

Patton maintains early releases are not a threat to public safety, stating DOC is fulfilling the law for early-release credits approved by the legislature.

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