Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones, whose agency drew criticism from the governor and legislative leaders recently over a lack of fiscal candor, has announced he will resign, effective Oct. 1.
“It is just time to turn the page and move on to another chapter in my life,” Jones, 57, told the Tulsa World on Monday. Efforts by The Oklahoman to reach Jones directly for comment were unsuccessful.
Jones informed his executive staff Monday of his intention to step down, said Jerry Massie, department spokesman.
Massie said Jones did not give a reason for his decision.
Jones began working for the Corrections Department as a probation and parole officer in 1977 and worked his way up through the agency before eventually being selected to head the agency in 2005.
At times, he clashed with policymakers who advocated putting more inmates in private prisons.
“You know, just because it is legal doesn't make it ethically and morally right for shareholders to make a profit off of incarceration of our fellow citizens,” Jones told the Tulsa World. “I guess with my Christian upbringing, there has always been a conflict with that.”
Gov. Mary Fallin expressed shaken confidence in Jones' leadership of the agency in April after learning his staff had been urgently requesting a $6.4 million supplemental appropriation at a time when it had about $22 million in three agency revolving funds.
The agency withdrew its request for the supplemental appropriation April 15.
The Oklahoman subsequently obtained documents revealing that corrections officials had grossly underreported the amount of cash held in two key agency revolving funds to Fallin as she was preparing her state budget recommendations for each of the past two years.
Legislative leaders and the governor then decided to give the Corrections Department a standstill budget for next fiscal year rather than increasing its appropriation, despite a growing number of inmates.
“The governor is not comfortable giving the agency more resources until it has thoroughly investigated these issues,” a spokesman for the governor said at the time.
Fallin is leading a delegation of aerospace companies and economic development agencies at the Paris Air Show and was unavailable for comment Monday.
“The governor appreciates Director Jones' years of dedicated service to the state of Oklahoma,” said Aaron Cooper, the governor's press secretary.
Corrections board member Steve Burrage, who also has been critical of the agency's financial transparency in regards to it revolving funds, said Monday he was not aware of any direct pressure for Jones to resign, but he noted Jones was at odds with some legislative leaders over the way the agency presented its finances.
“That's a major problem,” he said.
Jones had strong support from many of his board members and had many supporters in the Legislature, as well.
“I wish all the best to Director Jones,” said state Rep. Earl Sears, R-Bartlesville. “I am very thankful and appreciative of the outstanding work that he did on behalf of corrections in the state of Oklahoma.”
Sears said he believes Jones managed the prison system well while having to constantly juggle resources to deal with changing numbers of inmates.
“I think he is a very compassionate man,” Sears said, adding that Jones' policies were always aimed at improving the Corrections Department.