As more than 400 of Oklahoma's older, more stable, inmates are being moved to a remote prison two hours west of Oklahoma City, families say good prisoners are being punished by a bad system.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie, said the move is in the best interests of the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite and the entire system.
“We understand that change is difficult to deal with and it may add travel time, but we have to do what's best for the agency and what's best for that facility,” Massie said.
At the heart of the move is a larger problem.
The prison system has a very hard time finding and retaining employees.
The Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite — a medium-security prison that can house roughly 800 inmates — could today fill 35 guard positions if it could find people willing to take the jobs.
Massie said that puts the prison at about 48 percent of its budgeted staffing level.
“It's real difficult to attract staff out there,” he said. “They're losing a lot of people to the oil field where they can start out at about $10 an hour more.”
The idea is that swapping out younger inmates with offenders over the age of 40 with good behavior will create an environment that is easier to manage for an understaffed facility.
“Generally, they're a little bit more stable,” Massie said. “They just kind of age out of a lot of acting out kind of behavior that you might see with younger inmates.”
A source whose incarcerated family member could be affected by this said many are viewing this as punishment for good behavior.
“It's just kind of breaking my heart for these guys,” she said, wishing to remain anonymous out of fear her family member would suffer repercussions from the prison system.
She said the reformatory has a reputation for being one of the roughest prisons with some of the oldest facilities.
“It used to be called the gladiator school because that's where you go and you fight,” she said.
Massie said that's part of the reason they are making the swap.
“It's not going to be the same OSR population,” he said.
The inmate move started June 4, Massie said, and by the end of the week, 255 inmates will have been moved to Granite.
Massie said about 40 to 60 inmates are being moved a week, and by the end of the transition, roughly 480 inmates will be moved to Granite and about as many moved out.
Lynn Powell, who has spent the past 20 years advocating for inmates and their families, said she has heard many concerns about one of the biggest inmate moves she has ever dealt with.
“I can kind of understand why the Department of Corrections is doing it,” Powell said.
“They want to turn it into an older yard, much like Crabtree, but they are taking people that have had jobs and haven't been in trouble for a long time and transporting them down there. ... A lot of families live in that area, and now they have to travel.”
Powell is the director of Oklahoma C.U.R.E based in Tulsa. She said it's a 4½-hour drive to Granite from Tulsa.