Lack of personnel at prisons is not a safety concern, Oklahoma governor's aide says

BY GRAHAM LEE BREWER gbrewer@opubco.com Modified: December 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm •  Published: December 26, 2013
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Although the Oklahoma Corrections Department is able to fill only about 60 percent of its staff positions, this lack of personnel does not present a safety concern for the public or for those working in the prisons, a top aide to Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday.

“The governor is not concerned about the situation in the prisons,” said Steve Mullins, general counsel to the governor. “We have regular meetings with Interim Director (Ed) Evans, asking about the staffing of the prisons and the safety concerns in the prisons, and he assures us — and we see evidence — that the staffing is adequate for the safety of Oklahoma.”

Mullins told reporters at a meeting in the governor's office that correction officer staffing in Oklahoma is similar to those in almost all other prisons across the country. Mullins said staffing concerns are more indicative of management issues within the department.

Corrections officer staffing in state prisons is just under 60 percent, said Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Corrections Department. Even if the department had people to fill every officer position, the department is only budgeted this year to fill 67 percent.

Massie would not elaborate on whether the department's current staffing levels created safety risks but did say it “does present the department with management issues.”

Recent tours of the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center, the Dick Conner Correctional Center and the Oklahoma State Reformatory by The Oklahoman found correctional officers at all three facilities had concerns about low staffing levels and its effect on morale.

David Ramsey, president of the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, a group that represents state corrections workers, said he took issue with Mullins' assertion and said he is not aware of another state with worse staffing levels in its prison system than Oklahoma.

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