Saying too many questions remain unanswered, Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, and Rep. Carl Newton, R-Cherokee, are calling on Gov. Kevin Stitt to delay closing the William S. Key Correctional Center until it can be determined exactly how much shuttering the facility will cost. The lawmakers said they still had questions after a recent Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the closure.
“We need time to ask the questions representatives from the Department of Corrections didn’t know the answers to,” Murdock said. “The governor signed off thinking they had a plan and I don’t think he had all the information needed. What we got out of that meeting was a whole lot of ‘I don’t knows.’ Why are they rushing the closing of this prison when they don’t know how much this is going to cost the taxpayers of this state? We need to slow this train down.”
Murdock noted the Department of Corrections is currently paying $19 million a year just in overtime. He said if some officers retire or quit rather than transfer to another facility, that could worsen staffing shortages and increase overtime costs. When legislators asked how much this closure would cost in retirement benefits, moving employees and unemployment insurance, officials from DOC said they didn’t know. While DOC estimated a savings of $1.3 million to $1.5 million, Murdock said he wanted to know what the net savings would be once the cost of laying people off was factored in.
Legislators also asked about $17 million in bond money that had previously been allocated to the prison for necessary repairs—ultimately that money was used in other facilities. When asked about that decision, DOC Director Scott Crow said he was not director at that time. However, Murdock noted Crow was chief operating officer of the agency when the decision to use the money elsewhere was made.
Murdock also felt legislators were misled in the hearing. When asked how many prisoners had already been transferred within the last week, Crow said only the normal transfer of prisoners had occurred.
“There are regular transfers that occur, but in the weeks before this announcement there were about 700 inmates at the prison, and they shipped out 300 in just the last month. That’s not normal, and I question whether what we were told was even remotely accurate,” Murdock said. “If we were misled in that meeting, I have to wonder if the governor was also misled when he was asked to sign off on the prison closure. If this decision was based on bad information, are we really doing what’s best for this state?”
Newton said he too is concerned with the implications of closing the William S. Key Correctional Center.
“I join Senator Murdock and our fellow lawmakers in concerns over the financial impact of this rushed decision,” Newton said. “I would like the department to slow down and let us look more thoroughly at the full implications of the potential closure of this facility and the effect it will have on our communities in northwest Oklahoma.”