Senator Jeff Rabon on Thursday said Oklahoma has reached a fork in the road on the issue of prison overcrowding and is proposing the construction of a 2,500 inmate facility as part of a long-term plan to address lingering problems facing the Department of Corrections.
The 5,200 acres occupied by the Howard McCleod Correctional Center in Atoka would serve as the location for the proposed facility, with construction costs estimated at nearly $170 million.
The construction of a new facility would ultimately save the state money by reducing the amount we spend on private prisons, said Rabon, D-Hugo. The cost of replacing and increasing the amount of beds currently needed at the state penitentiary in McAlester is estimated at $160 million. Building a new facility is a short-term expenditure that could lead to long-term solutions guaranteeing that our taxpayer dollars are being utilized efficiently.
Rabon said a comparison between the amount spent annually on private prisons and the estimated cost of debt service on bonds to fund the construction of the facility suggests the state would save money by proceeding with the project.
We need to find a long-term solution to both the funding problems facing the Department of Corrections and our problem with overcrowding, Rabon said. The construction of this facility is a good starting point to initiate reform.
Rabon added that a forthcoming audit of the Department of Corrections should provide the Legislature with additional information that will help address the agencys long-term funding problems, and that certain sentencing guidelines may also need to be re-examined to relieve prison overcrowding.
While being tough on crime and locking criminals up, weve failed to adequately address the funding needs of our Corrections Department and its become an emergency situation, Rabon said. Were paying private prisons and were paying county jails for bed space but were not spending our money on a long-term solution. Weve reached a fork in the road where we have to address this problem responsibly, or continue wasting taxpayer dollars and putting our correctional officers at risk.