Sen. Constance N. Johnson on Monday commended Justin Jones, Director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC), for prudent use of taxpayer dollars following a recent announcement of targeted budget cuts within the agency. DOC recently announced that it would reduce its private prison space contracts by five percent beginning this month.
DOC officials said the cuts were a response to declining state revenues, as all state agencies were recently ordered to reduce their budgets by five percent for the third consecutive month. Johnson said the targeted cuts would allow the agency to make it through the most recent round of budget reductions without furloughs or any compromise in safety standards at state corrections facilities. The agency has been on a hiring freeze since January, and anticipates a funding deficit of $9 million by the end of the fiscal year.
“Director Jones should be commended rather than criticized for being a good steward of taxpayer dollars and for working with private contractors to address these huge revenue shortfalls,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma County. “He has been successful in guiding the agency through a tumultuous funding crisis and managing its budget to avoid state employee furloughs and maintain standards at our corrections facilities. We greatly appreciate the efforts made by Director Jones, the Board of Corrections, and DOC staff.”
Johnson noted that prior to asking private prisons to take per diem reductions, the Department reduced full-time employees to 77 percent of authorized time, instituted a hiring freeze, reduced its overall budget by 5 percent, offered voluntary employee retirement buyouts, and eliminated a host of other costs and programs.
“The criticism that has been leveled against the agency for its response to these budget restrictions is perplexing,” Johnson said. “Director Jones’ decision becomes even more sensible, given that a recent prison study revealed the cost of housing an inmate in a maximum-security, state-owned prison to be cheaper than the cost of doing so in a private prison in Oklahoma. The Department of Corrections has certainly taken the recession and budget reductions seriously, and has responded prudently.”