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No reason to believe sweeping corrections changes coming soon to Oklahoma

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: January 7, 2013

If Oklahoma's prisons weren't constantly at or near capacity, county jails wouldn't be needed as frequently for spillover. But the number of state prisoners being held in county jails has grown by 300 percent in the past decade, due in part to laws that require inmates to serve longer stretches of time before they can be considered for parole.

DOC Director Justin Jones reported last month that about 800 more prisoners were housed in October than in the same month of 2011. Thus his request for $6.4 million in supplemental funding, to pay for additional use of private prisons and halfway houses.

The DOC's check from the Legislature for this fiscal year totaled $463.7 million. Yet Jones in 2013 wants $12.2 million more from the Legislature, to pay for 5 percent pay raises. This is because the swollen prison population is being overseen by fewer numbers of corrections officers — the DOC budget includes only enough funding to fill 69 percent of the authorized positions, and not even all those are filled. Prison guards are routinely outnumbered by a sizable margin, but starting pay is just $11.83 per hour.

In October, Republican state Rep. Jeff Hickman called prison staffing levels “life-and-death situations now.” He added: “Someone is going to die if we don't make some changes and make them sooner rather than later.”

Given Oklahoma's track record, our money's on the changes coming later.

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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