Veteran Senator Cal Hobson questioned Thursday why, if House Speaker Todd Hiett believes the Oklahoma prisons have been under-funded for 10 years, he is willing to wait until next year to address the critical staffing shortage in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
“On a campaign stop in Enid last week the Speaker indicated that the problems facing DOC are not new and, he claimed, date back 10 years, but he continues to refuse to be willing to address them until next year. It just doesn’t make any sense to me to refuse to correct a problem that he admit exists just because it’s not a new problem,” Hobson said, referring to an interview Hiett granted to a reporter from the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority last week.
Governor Brad Henry added Corrections funding to his special session call in June. In July, in response to the Governor’s call, Senate Democrats unveiled an $11 million plan that would allow DOC to hire 150 new guards in Fiscal Year 2006. House leaders refused to negotiate on the issue and in late August, the Senate returned the Capitol alone and voted 46-1 in favor of the $11 million funding plan.
Hiett has steadfastly insisted that the Corrections issue can wait until February.
“For more than two months, the House has refused to act on a measure that would put dozens of new corrections officers in the state’s prisons before the next regular session of the Legislature convenes February 6. While we’re waiting on the Speaker to act, our corrections officers, the inmates in our prisons and our families are at risk,” said Hobson, whose district includes two state prisons.
Since the Governor called on the Legislature to address the staffing shortages in our prisons, one inmate has been killed, several more have been wounded.
“In my own hometown a woman was kidnapped when a convicted rapist and a convicted murderer escaped from the Joseph Harp Correctional Center,” Hobson said. “This is a real public safety crisis and it’s irresponsible for the Speaker not to be willing to address it as soon as possible.”
Hiett, Hobson pointed out, has said lawmakers should comprehensively review the Department of Corrections and enact a permanent fix to prevent future staffing shortages.
“I don’t think anyone disagrees that we want to prevent this kind of crisis from arising in the future and I’m in favor of taking a comprehensive look at our prison system next session. That is no reason, however, not to act as soon as we can to begin increasing the number of corrections officers in our state prisons,” said Hobson who is entering his 28th year in the Legislature.
“I’ve been around the legislative process long enough to know that if the Speaker insists on including additional funds for District Attorneys, raises for State Troopers and other things in the bill that provides funding to reduce the shortage of corrections officers, the battle could drag out until May. I’m not willing to wait that long to do what’s necessary to make the people in my district safe.”