The death of an inmate at the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite should serve as a sobering reminder to lawmakers and the public of the critical staffing needs in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, State Senator Kenneth Corn said Monday.
Corn, D-Poteau, said a fight in the prison exercise yard turned deadly Sunday evening when one inmate was killed and three others were injured.
“We must address the crisis facing our prison system as soon as possible,” said Corn, who is heading up the Senate’s effort to find a comprehensive solution to the funding shortage at the Department of Corrections. “The need is real and immediate. We have a shortage of corrections officers and as a result the safety of the prison population, our prison guards and our families are at risk. We can’t wait for the violence to reach beyond the razor wire and into our communities. Now is the time to act.”
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary, Corn is expected to unveil a plan to fund the hiring of additional guards at state prisons later this week.
House Speaker Todd Hiett, however, has said action on DOC funding issues can wait until next near and don’t need attention during the current special session called by Governor Brad Henry.
“The Senate is ready to act on a comprehensive plan to correct the chronic funding issues at DOC. It’s time for the House to engage in the debate. How many deaths is it going to take before Speaker Hiett and the Republicans are willing to admit we’re facing a real crisis?” Corn asked.
Corn said the Department of Corrections responded to the violent incident at Granite by beefing up staffing at the southwest Oklahoma facility with guards temporarily transferred from two prisons in Lexington and one in Fort Supply.
“At best that’s a short-term fix that might help keep unrest at Granite under control but at what price?
Temporarily reassigning guards when there’s an outbreak of violence isn’t the solution. We need to increase staffing in our prisons now and take a comprehensive approach to managing our prison population in the future,” Corn said.