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Older inmate population at Oklahoma State Reformatory means lower violence, higher medical needs

The state Department of Corrections removed all inmates at the Oklahoma State Reformatory under the age of 40 in July 2012, replacing them with older inmates. The move lowered violence rates, as intended, but medical needs have increased significantly.
by Graham Lee Brewer Modified: November 17, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: November 17, 2013

The Oklahoma State Reformatory here was built in 1909, and its stone walls seem old.

The 1,000 inmates housed within those walls are also on the old side.

In July 2012, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections removed every inmate under the age of 40, sent them to other facilities and replaced them with older offenders. The move came after guards at the understaffed prison struggled to combat high levels of violence.

That shift appears to be working.

According to incident reports, in 2012, the medium-security facility in far western Oklahoma had 27 cases of battery, 53 cases of intentional injury and 35 assaults.

Part of the problem was a difficulty filling dozens of correctional officer and staff positions, Warden Tracy McCollum said.

Officers at the state reformatory start off making around $11 per hour. People either found better paying work in the oil fields or were reluctant to work at a place known for physical assaults, both among prisoners and on officers.

“That's all people knew about us,” McCollum said. “You came to work constantly with the thought of violence on your mind.”

Since the transition to older inmates, there have only been seven recorded incidents of violence, Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said. Of those, only three were considered severe.

McCollum said that while he has seen an increase in hiring over the last year, he still has nearly two dozen empty correctional officer positions. That fact was clear on a recent tour of the prison. In the yard, inmates mingle and the only officers visible stand in towers along the prison's walls.

McCollum said he would like to have more guards patrolling the area, but he also said that since the switch he feels safe interacting with inmates.

“Violence has gone to virtually nothing,” McCollum said. “Now, it's not a constant state of ‘Oh my god, what's going to happen.'”

He said the older inmates simply seem calmer and less inclined toward violence than the younger inmates.

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by Graham Lee Brewer
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Graham Lee Brewer began his career as a journalist covering Oklahoma's vibrant music scene in 2006. After working as a public radio reporter for KGOU and then Oklahoma Watch, where he covered areas such as immigration and drug addiction, he went...
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