OCTOBER will bring a change at the top of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. This doesn't mean change is on the way for the DOC.
Corrections Director Justin Jones is resigning effective Oct. 1, after eight years in the job and 36 with the agency. Jones, 57, said it was “just time to turn the page and move on to another chapter in my life.” The most recent chapter, which saw him get crossways with the governor's office, has been difficult and surely played a part in his decision.
In April, Gov. Mary Fallin questioned why Jones was asking for $6.4 million in supplemental funding to help the agency make it through the fiscal year when DOC had an “undisclosed” $22 million in three revolving funds. Jones insisted that all three funds were listed in his budget every year. They were used to fill budget gaps and put out other fires that invariably popped up. He withdrew his request for the supplemental appropriation, but the damage was done.
The Oklahoman later learned that for the past two years, DOC had underreported the amount of money held in two of the revolving accounts. Fallin said she wasn't comfortable providing any additional funding to the agency until the issues were resolved. She meant it: The Legislature's appropriation to DOC this year was the same as the previous year. Fallin's concerns about the way DOC presented its finances were shared by legislative leaders, who call the shots on agency funding. “That's a major problem,” said Steve Burrage, former state auditor who now serves on the state board of corrections.
Philosophy was another problem for Jones. He wasn't a fan of expanding, as the Legislature has done through the years, the list of crimes that require offenders to serve 85 percent of their sentence before they can be considered for parole. Such mandatory minimum sentences affect the ever-growing inmate census. His opposition to private prisons placed him squarely at odds with some powerful members of the Legislature. So too did his occasional calls for reform efforts to reduce the prison population.