Senator Kenneth Corn, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary, questioned today what exactly it was going to take to make Republican Speaker of the House Todd Hiett understand there is a crisis in prisons across Oklahoma.
“Just this weekend, a private prison in Holdenville had to be locked down to prevent a riot among prisoners, and the Speaker is still saying we should wait until next year to address the problem.” Corn said. “This is a slap in the face to the thousands of correctional officers who put their lives on the line every day.”
Corn, (D-Poteau) said the state endured an extremely dangerous situation in McAlester over 30 years ago when a riot broke out due to inadequate staffing and poor prison conditions. As a result of the notorious riot and fires that destroyed more than 23 buildings and took three lives, the prison remains on lock down 23 hours out of the day.
“I certainly do not think the people of Oklahoma want to go through another McAlester incident,” Corn said. “But if we continue to live by Speaker Hiett’s philosophy of ‘wait until next year’, we certainly could be heading down that road very soon.”
Corn said he and members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary will meet Monday in McAlester to begin working on a comprehensive plan to address the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) funding crisis.
“On Monday, we will see first hand exactly what our correctional officers in Oklahoma face everyday, and I am afraid it’s not going to be pretty,” Corn said. “I invite the Speaker to join me on Monday as I walk the halls of the prison in McAlester. Perhaps then he will change his mind and come to the table with more than a ‘wait until next year’ attitude.”
The Senator said he hopes the Monday tour of the McAlester prison will help guide his decisions as he and members of the Senate committee look at ways to keep Oklahoma communities safe.
“Throughout the regular session I pleaded with Republican budget negotiators to fully fund DOC, but my pleas fell on deaf ears because they were too busy trying to find ways to justify their eagerness to give tax cuts to the super rich,” Corn said. “Recognizing the funding crisis at DOC, Governor Henry asked us to address the situation during Special Session and that is exactly what I intend to do.”
Corn noted that appropriating additional revenue to DOC during special session will be the first step in a comprehensive plan to address the public safety crisis in Oklahoma.
“President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan recognizes that appropriating additional funds to DOC doesn’t adequately address this problem,” Corn said. “I am thankful that the Democratic leadership in the Senate understands this and is willing to let us roll up our sleeves and do exactly what it takes to provide adequate staffing at our correctional facilities; a move that will keep Oklahoma communities safe.”
“It’s simply the right thing to do,” the lawmaker concluded. “To follow the suggestions of Republican Speaker Hiett and ‘wait until next year’ would be irresponsible and could put the lives of Oklahomans in jeopardy.”