In a continued effort to find a comprehensive solution to the prison funding crisis facing the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC), the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary heard testimony today from Oklahoma Correctional Officers. Chairman of the Subcommittee, Senator Kenneth Corn, (D-Poteau) said today’s meeting gave subcommittee members a better understanding of how inadequate staffing at state prisons affects correctional officer’s ability to keep themselves and Oklahoma communities safe.
“It is evident we are facing a crisis in prisons across this state,” Corn said. “Through the process of meeting with DOC officials and correctional officers we are getting answers to questions that will help us come up with a comprehensive solution to the prison funding crisis.”
Corn said he is alarmed by the ‘wait and see’ attitude coming out of the Republican controlled House of Representatives. The Senator said waiting until next year to address the problem is simply unacceptable
“Speaker Hiett has made it no secret that he plans to do nothing about the public safety problem that Governor Henry has asked us to address during special session,” Corn said. “That is irresponsible and compromises the safety of Oklahomans.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan has given Corn and his subcommittee until July 14 to come up with a comprehensive solution to the prison safety crisis at DOC.
“I am confident the plan that will emerge – as a result of the efforts of the Senate – will be a plan that will keep Oklahomans safe,” Morgan (D-Stillwater) said.
Corn said his subcommittee has been hard at work crafting a plan to address the issue. Just last week he and other members of the Senate met at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary (OSP) in McAlester and walked the yard as correctional officers to get a closer look at conditions inside the prison.
“We walked the yard of the OSP during a shift where the ratio of correctional officers to prisoners was one to 85,” Corn, said. “It was very eye opening and an experience I will not soon forget.”
Corn said in nine out of the last 11 years, DOC has asked for a supplemental appropriation to fund the growing state prison population. He said if Oklahoma wants to be tougher on crime than any other state in the country, it must also fund DOC at appropriate levels.
He also said Oklahoma ranks last in the country in the ratio of correctional officers to inmates.
“In 2000, a correctional officer was killed in the line of duty,” Corn said. “If we continue to fund DOC at levels that put one correctional officer to 112 inmates we could lose another correctional officer to prison violence and as Oklahomans we cannot stand for that.”
Corn concluded by saying the Senate intends to address the issue during special session, but will also be looking into future solutions to include into a comprehensive plan to address the needs of DOC.
“Others might choose to sit idly by and do nothing to address this issue, and in the process shortchange the people of this state,” the lawmaker said. “But the Senate will be hard at work coming up with a comprehensive solution to keep Oklahomans safe.