(State Capitol, Oklahoma City) – Oklahoma inmates must be moved out of a private prison in Hinton within six months. Other private prison space in Oklahoma was allowed to lie dormant for years, but now other states are signing up to rent the space, making these prisons unavailable for Oklahoma’s prisoners.
State Sen. Owen Laughlin, a former prosecutor, said these developments – and a growing shortage of bed space at state-owned prisons – are a direct result of decades of neglect of Oklahoma’s prison system by Democrat legislators.
“Democrats have run the Oklahoma State Senate for the past 100 years, and they have neglected prison funding for decades,” stated Laughlin, R-Woodward. “They actually once publicly admitted on the Senate Floor that they were purposely under-funding prisons so they could fund their pet projects, and were going to push the ‘prison problem’ to the next year. Republicans were outraged, but we have never had the votes in the Senate to force a change.”
Laughlin said the time has come for the Legislature to take the corrections issue seriously.
“Our state should pay a competitive rate for private prison space to complement our existing state-owned prisons. But that isn’t happening, so other states are now out-bidding us. This is a shame, because it is a lot less expensive in the long-run to utilize private prison space and let the private sector bear the cost of prison construction,” he said.
Laughlin said Department of Corrections funding makes up 6.9% of the current state budget, compared to 53.8% of the budget for education and 15.9% for health and social services.
“Most people are very surprised when they find out what a small percentage of the state budget we spend on prisons. Most citizens would agree that a government that refuses to keep criminals off the street is not doing its job,” he stated