In a continued effort to find a comprehensive solution to the prison funding crisis facing the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC), the Senate Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety has invited Oklahoma Correctional Officers to testify at a meeting next Wednesday at the State Capitol. Senator Kenneth Corn, (D-Poteau) said he will ask correctional officers for their input on how inadequate staffing at state prisons affects their ability to keep themselves and Oklahoma communities safe.
“It is no secret that we are facing a crisis in prisons across this state,” Corn said. “Currently there are two escapees on the loose and violence continues to plague prison populations around the state. We cannot ‘wait until next year’ to address this problem, as Speaker Hiett has suggested.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan has given Corn and his subcommittee until July 14th 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 122 inmates we could lose another correctional officer to prison violence and as Oklahomans we can’t stand for that.”
The Democrat from Poteau said people choose to live in this state because Oklahoma is a safe place to raise a family.
“We need to do whatever we can to keep our communities safe,” Corn said. “That is why we must address this problem now. Ignoring the funding crisis at DOC does nothing to help keep our communities safe.
“Others might choose to sit idly by and do nothing about this issue,” Corn concluded. “But the Senate will be working diligently to fix this problem during special session, as Governor Henry has directed us to do.”