Following the release of an independent performance audit of the Department of Corrections, Senator Jeff Rabon on Tuesday again called for the construction of a new, 2,500 inmate correctional facility to be located on 5,200 acres currently occupied by the Howard McCleod Correctional Center in Atoka.
Rabon said the audit confirmed that the Legislature has failed to meet the funding needs of the Department of Corrections and that action must be taken to ease overcrowding and update a crumbling corrections infrastructure. The construction of the facility on 5,200 acres of land already owned by the state, Rabon said, is a practical alternative that eliminates any red tape associated with purchasing additional land.
“The audit confirmed what we already knew, which is that we’ve reached a breaking point where we must address this issue responsibly with a long-term solution to our corrections funding problem,” said Rabon, D-Hugo. “It’s time for the Legislature to stop paying private prisons for bed space and to construct a new facility that will accommodate the number of inmates entering the system. This is a critical public safety concern, and we can no longer afford to watch as our corrections system crumbles due to an unwillingness to invest in improvements.”
Rabon explained that the audit identified a shortage of maximum-security beds as being the most pressing capacity issue currently facing the Department of Corrections, and added that construction of the new facility would be a fiscally responsible solution. A $170 million bond would be required to finance construction of the new facility.
Rabon noted that the cost of a previously announced plan to rehabilitate beds at the state penitentiary in McAlester would cost an estimated $160 million without adding any additional maximum security bed space. Rabon said his proposal, which would cost $10 million more than the rehabilitative proposal while adding 2,500 maximum security beds, is the sensible alternative.
“The construction of a new facility in Atoka would ease prison overcrowding and the burden on our prison staff immediately,” Rabon said. “We’ve seen that the Legislature’s lack of willingness to commit to adequate funding and investing in our corrections infrastructure creates serious long-term problems, and it’s time we step forward with a practical solution. If you compare the costs spent annually on private prisons with the cost of debt service to finance the bonds needed to construct the facility, the figures suggest the state could ultimately save money by building the Atoka facility,” Rabon said.
Rabon added that the Legislature must also address the audit’s recommendations regarding sentencing guidelines and parole procedure, as the prison population has increased over the past decade while the state’s overall crime rate has decreased over the same period.