At statehood, Oklahoma did not yet have its own prison system—inmates had to be sent to Kansas. When Kate Barnard, our first Commissioner of Charities and Corrections, uncovered the horrific treatment of Oklahoma prisoners, she worked hard to establish the construction of the state’s first prison and the establishment of a three-tiered state prison system, which included a penitentiary, a reformatory and a boys’ training school.
Today, the Department of Corrections (DOC) is an important part of Oklahoma’s commitment to public safety, a core service of government. DOC is also one of our top 12 agencies in terms of state appropriated dollars—the fifth highest agency in fact. And unlike some other agencies, the greatest sources of their funding, 91 percent, comes from taxpayer dollars. The remaining nine percent comes from revolving funds within DOC, such as the canteen revolving fund, or the prison industries fund. Oklahoma incarcerates inmates in 16 state prisons, two private prisons, seven community corrections centers, two contracted halfway houses, and one contracted county jail.
In Fiscal Year 2020, DOC’s total budget was $613 million, an increase of approximately 9.9 percent over the agency’s previous budget of $558.1 million. Between low energy prices and the pandemic, we all know state revenues took a major hit this past year, and so for Fiscal Year 2021, DOC’s appropriation is $531.1 million, a decrease of $24.5 million from Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations. I want to point out, however, that over the last two fiscal years, we were able to give a raise of $2 an hour to over 3,000 employees—a pay boost that was greatly needed to attract and retain staff.
What does it cost a day for incarceration at state prisons? Well, for a minimum security prison, it’s $48.19 a day per inmate, with the largest part of that going to payroll, about $30.51. Food is about $2.29 a day. For a medium security prison, it’s about $52.35 per inmate per day, with $27 of that going to payroll and $2.61 for food. Maximum security prison cost about $90.48 per inmate each day, with $64.45 of that for payroll. Food is more expensive in maximum security prisons because each meal must be served individually, at a cost of $4.12 a day for each inmate.
Private prisons are something the state turned to some years ago in order to ease prison overcrowding in our state facilities. Medium security private prison costs are about $45.77 a day, compared to $52.35 for state prisons. For a maximum security private prison, the cost is $59.66 a day, compared to $90.48 at a state maximum security prison.
Another significant state expense within our prison system is inmate health care. When a person is in DOC custody, they lose most of any federal benefits they may have received before their conviction, and the state does not get to enjoy those health care benefits either. However; an inmate needing medical treatment may be eligible for Medicaid under specific circumstances. In the 2019 budget year, 346 inpatient hospitalization applications were approved, resulting in a cost savings to the agency of about $6.6 million.
We are fortunate that the OU Medical Center provides a variety of inpatient and outpatient services at zero cost to DOC, but there are other medical expenses. Hepatitis C infection is more prevalent in correctional populations, and the average cost for a single course of treatment is $29,203. In Fiscal Year 2020, DOC was appropriated $12 million for this area of medical care, which provided treatment for over 400 inmates.
It is important to point out the impact that recent criminal justice reform measures have had on DOC receptions and overall prison populations. Those include State Question 780, approved in 2016, that reclassified certain non-violent drug and theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors; House Bill 2286 in 2018, which established administrative and aging prisoner parole; and House Bill 1269 in 2019, which made SQ 780 retroactive and allowed for an accelerated single stage commutation docket. As a result, the number of inmates in Oklahoma prisons decreased by about 12 percent between the 2017 and 2020 budget years. The number of DOC receptions decreased about 36 percent during that same period.
Lastly, I’m sometimes asked, when was the last time Oklahoma built a state prison? In 1995, the Charles “Bill” Johnson Correctional Center in Alva was built. This men’s minimum-security prison specializes in rehabilitating drug offenders—something that can turn lives around, reducing recidivism.
If you have any questions about the budget or the appropriations process, I invite you to contact me at 405-521-5588 or email Roger.Thompson@oksenate.gov. Thank you.