Lack of funding hurting state prisons


This is the second part of a three-part series looking at Oklahoma’s corrections and justice system. Click here for part one.

HOMINY, Okla. — Dick Conner Correctional Center Warden Terry Martin knows how easy it can be for an offender to break out of his cell.

“This offender was able to manipulate his cell door lock and we had a female officer that was working the unit and he did attack her. He had made some devices. The report did say it was a rape kit,” Martin said.

Some of the locks at Dick Conner are so old, they’re falling apart.

That’s not all the officers who patrol the cell blocks are worried about; the number of staff at the prison has been on a steady decline since the 1980s.

“I think when I came to work in 1995, we had 130 officers for three shifts, give or take a few,” Lt. Justin Reeves said. “And now we have somewhere around high seventies, low eighties.”

The corrections system just doesn’t have the funding to pay people enough to want to work at the prison.

Because of the prison population boom, the funding corrections does get usually goes to providing basic needs for additional prisoners.

“If staffing levels continue to decrease, certainly opportunity for inappropriate offender behavior increases and that would include the attempt to escape. Public safety would be at risk,” Martin said.

Lack of funding doesn’t just affect public safety while offenders are in prison.

Several studies have shown having money to employ additional in-prison treatment and education programs reduces the chance a convict will re-offend.

That’s exactly what Todd Johnston is counting on.

“Not here but at another facility I got my associates degree,” Johnston said.

He’s at Dick Conner doing time for attempted kidnapping and robbery.

He said he got the tools to turn his life around while in prison.

“If you’re able to have a goal and able to achieve that goal and find that achievement inside yourself, then you’ve accomplished something in your life,” Johnston said. “And to be able to continue doing that through programs and other things that are offered here, then that gives you the initiative to set other goals and do better when you leave here.”

Prison officers and inmates said the Department of Corrections could use more rehabilitation programs but with funding as low as it is, that’s not likely to happen.

Monday night, tune in to Freedom 43 TV at 9 p.m. for the concluding piece in this series, where we’ll take a look at alternatives to incarceration Oklahoma can use to free up tax payer money.