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Tulsa World editorial: Patton’s retreat: Departing DOC chief’s tenure too rocky

Dec 8, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

The resignation of Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton after less than two years on the job shouldn’t come as any big surprise. Patton took a few steps to streamline the huge bureaucracy such as removing DOC-ready inmates from county jails more quickly. But he forever will be remembered as the director who oversaw the troubled execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014. It also was on Patton’s watch that the wrong lethal injection drug was used during an execution in January. That same incorrect drug was delivered to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the scheduled Sept. 30 execution of Richard Glossip, prompting Gov. Mary Fallin to put a temporary moratorium on executions. Patton is the second DOC official to leave since a multicounty grand jury began investigating the execution protocol. Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell recently retired from her post one week after she testified before the grand jury.

The resignation of Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton after less than two years on the job shouldn’t come as any big surprise.

Patton took a few steps to streamline the huge bureaucracy such as removing DOC-ready inmates from county jails more quickly. But he forever will be remembered as the director who oversaw the troubled execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014.

It also was on Patton’s watch that the wrong lethal injection drug was used during an execution in January. That same incorrect drug was delivered to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary for the scheduled Sept. 30 execution of Richard Glossip, prompting Gov. Mary Fallin to put a temporary moratorium on executions.

Patton is the second DOC official to leave since a multicounty grand jury began investigating the execution protocol. Penitentiary Warden Anita Trammell recently retired from her post one week after she testified before the grand jury.

Overseeing Oklahoma’s sprawling prison system is no picnic during the best of times. With at least 27,000 inmates, state prisons are chronically overcrowded and aging; DOC staff is underpaid and undermanned. There is an over-reliance on private prisons, and an inadequate budget that leaves little room for reform.

When Patton was hired from the Arizona prison system, Gov. Fallin and legislative leaders got what they wanted — an outsider. His predecessor, Justin Jones, was admired on the national level for his ideas that centered on prevention and treatment as the best public safety tools. Jones came through the DOC administrative system. He saw value in reforms, and turning around Oklahoma’s longstanding top five ranking in per-capita incarceration.

Jones also viewed private prisons, which must stay full to make a profit, as a self-defeating proposition.

Patton is returning to Arizona to be nearer his family and has accepted a position there.

We wish him well. All things considered, we don’t think the state prison system progressed under his leadership, and we look forward to change.