Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan announced Wednesday that he has asked the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Public Safety and Judiciary to develop a Senate plan to increasing funding for the Department of Corrections.
Morgan said he contacted Sub-Committee Chairman Kenneth Corn by telephone Tuesday and asked the Poteau Democrat to have the plan prepared by Thursday, July 14.
“The safety of Oklahoma families is too important an issue to let linger all summer and we need to do more than throw money at the situation. I expect Senator Corn and the sub-committee to craft a comprehensive solution so that DOC won’t have to have its hand out every year,” Morgan said.
The Senate leader said it is unlikely that such a comprehensive plan can be fully funded with money available for appropriation by the Legislature in the current special session.
“This may have to be a two-part or three-part plan, but it’s time that we seriously address this issue. I’ve been here nine years and it’s come up nine times. That’s why I’ve asked Senator Corn and his sub-committee to craft a comprehensive plan,” Morgan said.
Oklahoma ranks fourth in the nation in the percentage of its population that is incarcerated. The Department of Corrections has nearly 24,000 Oklahomans behind bars and manages more than 33,000 others who are either on probation or parole.
DOC is currently authorized to employ 2,553 corrections officers but officials say funding levels have forced the department to operate with nearly 600 fewer. Understaffing at state prisons puts both the guards and the public at risk, officials say.
Estimates of the department’s fiscal needs have reached as high as $30 million.
Lawmakers have about $20 million available to appropriate in the special session and Governor Brad Henry also wants lawmakers to consider funding for projects that will be part of the state’s centennial celebration in 2007.
“We have a critical public safety issue on our hands. The Senate’s first goal will be to protect Oklahoma families and create a safer working environment for our corrections officers. When we have adequately addressed that crisis we can then turn our attention to celebrating our state’s centennial,” Morgan said.
Corn and members of the sub-committee are scheduled to tour the Oklahoma State Penitentiary on Monday and will hold a press conference at OSP Monday afternoon to discuss the process they will use to arrive at a comprehensive prison funding plan and some of the options available to lawmakers in the special session.