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Oklahoma Department of Corrections: Prison overpopulation becoming dangerous

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Officials with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections say they are concerned about how dangerous the state’s prison system continues to become.

On Friday, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections released information showing that for the first time in 49 years, the population of individuals who are incarcerated, on supervision or are currently in a county jail awaiting transfer has surpassed 61,000.

Today’s system wide count is 61,012.

According to the DOC, there are 26,619 inmates being housed in state-run and private prisons or halfway houses; 32,564 being supervised on GPS monitors, community supervision or by probation and parole officers; and 1,829 in county jail backup.

Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh said the numbers are a sobering reminder of how overpopulated and dangerous the state’s prison system continues to become.

“We are beyond the tipping point,” Allbaugh said. “The staff and the public are at risk every day when we operate at this capacity. We are critically understaffed in facilities that weren’t built to house inmates. Some of these places are over a century old, causing the agency to hemorrhage money. Statewide, our prisons are in need of more than $2 billion in infrastructure repairs.”

“We have individuals working in the agency who qualify for food stamps and an astronomical turnover rate close to 40 percent, which is leading to money spent on perpetual officer academies and training for new employees,” he continued. “The inefficient practices inundating the agency for decades must end.”

Allbaugh is a member of Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, which recently had its deadline for recommendations of proposed legislation extended.

“I am encouraged by some of the recommendations being discussed by the task force,” Allbaugh said. “However, we need to stop nibbling around the edges and pass substantive reforms that will have an immediate impact on the population.”

The Crime and Justice Institute and the Pew Charitable Trusts have been providing assistance to the task force.

The organizations have concluded if no action is taken, Oklahoma’s prison population will increase by 25 percent over the next 10 years and the state will need three additional prisons to handle the increased population.

DOC officials say the total cost to Oklahoma taxpayers is an estimated $1.2 billion in capital needs with an additional $700 million in operating costs.

“The department has operated the same way for more than 30 years and it’s unacceptable,” said Corrections Board Chairman Michael Roach. “It’s hard to imagine the situation getting worse. We have seen the numbers. If we don’t take immediate action the system will continue to erode to a point of disrepair forcing the taxpayers to foot an even larger bill.”

“We need to get more individuals on board with meaningful reform to right this ship,” Road said.

Roach said the current state of the agency is the reason behind the $1.648 billion budget request the corrections board members unanimously approved at the last board meeting.

In November, Oklahoma voters passed a criminal justice reform in our state, which will reclassify some criminal offenses, like drug possession and property crimes, to misdemeanors instead of felonies.