About a third of the state's correctional officers qualify for food stamps. But not just prison workers are affected, and not just blue-collar jobs are at issue. The Oklahoma Public Employees Association says many state employees are leaving for the energy field, which needs accountants as well as truck drivers and welders.
SandRidge Energy Corp. Chairman Tom Ward is an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform, which could reduce the prison population and lower the number of correctional officers needed. This isn't just an ideological position for him: SandRidge trains former inmates, Ward said, “because we know that having a job changes their course, restores their dignity and helps break the endless, generational cycle of incarceration.”
In theoretical terms, Oklahoma now has full employment. In the Enid area, “Everybody that wants a job has a job,” said the owner of the aircraft repair firm.
We hope legislators are aware of these trends. They need to stay serious about prison reform and at least meet Jones halfway on the pay increase. We applaud Ward and others who recognize that the best way to keep offenders from being repeat offenders is to give them a vocation. As for that man from Illinois, we hope he gives Oklahoma a look on his way to check out Texas.
And as for the difficulty of finding workers? Well, it's a good problem for Oklahoma to have.