State Sen. Kenneth Corn said with current Department of Corrections (DOC) projections indicating Oklahoma will soon run out of room, he supports the construction of new prison space. Corn, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary, called the situation critical.
“Just two weeks ago, DOC had a backlog of about 1,100 inmates waiting to get into its facilities. Last week it was more than 1,200 and as of this Tuesday morning, it was 1,355,” said Corn, D-Poteau. “By early next year, there will be no prison space left in Oklahoma to house these inmates.”
Corn said it was imperative to move quickly once the 2007 legislative session begins to address the situation, which he predicts will continue to worsen.
“The DOC already owns property in McAlester. We could pass a bond issue that would enable us to construct space for an additional 750 inmates,” Corn said. “I also support their request for a new 1,400-bed medium security facility.”
The lack of state prison space has forced DOC to rely on county jails, but that has already led to court action in Oklahoma County, and is seriously straining resources in other counties, said Corn.
“In a worse-case scenario, we run the risk of federal intervention, which would be far more costly to our citizens,” Corn said. “Building additional space would actually be more cost-effective in several ways, because newer correctional facilities are designed to work with less staff and are more energy efficient.”
According to DOC Director Justin Jones, the state has not built a stand-alone secure facility in over twenty-five years. Other states have already contracted available private prison beds in Oklahoma.
“This is a public safety issue that must be a top priority in the coming session,” Corn said. “I am hopeful that my fellow members agree that this is a crisis situation, and we must act quickly to address it.”