OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has requested $1.53 billion in state funding for the 2019 fiscal year.
If fully granted, the budget would include more than $107 million in repairs to its facilities and $10 million in employee raises across the board.
“37 percent of our agency alone qualifies for food stamps. What kind of a signal is that to the rest of the world? What are we trying to demonstrate?” said ODOC Director Joe Allbaugh.
Allbaugh said many employees have not received raises in 12 years. It’s a reality Jerold Braggs, Jr. understands. He serves as a warden at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center (LARC).
“When an officer signs on to work here and we got great benefits but the private sector offers them 3 or $4 more and they have a family to feed, that’s a consideration that they have to take in when they’re making a decision whether to stay or go,” Braggs told News 4.
The facility houses about 1,400 inmates with only about 112 correctional officers. Braggs said they’re not paid enough for the draining work they do.
“We could go from getting a phone call that a water tower went down. From there, an inmate could attempt suicide or we have an emergency transport,” he said. “Officers, they deal with a lot of inmates during their 12-hour shifts then they have to have families that they go home to. Sometimes, we expect or inquire they have to work overtime and it takes away from their family.”
The requested budget also includes $813 million for two new medium security prisons, support to expand re-entry, along with mental health and substance abuse programs. Officials said the new prisons are necessary to address overcrowding.
“Maybe a year and a half ago, we had inmates actually living in the gym. They were housed there,” Braggs said.
Allbaugh said he has continually warned of overcrowding.
“We’re out of space. I’ve been saying this for two years, so some people will accuse me of a little boy crying wolf. But, what happened? A wolf showed up one of these days,” he said. “It’s not one of those discussions that you have at the dinner table. I represent the ugly underbelly of society that no one wants to do anything about.”
Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville serves on the joint committee for public safety. He said the needs are clear but admits it’s a challenging situation.
“The bad part is we’re not able to do all of the things we need to do to help these guys in the different classes,” Cleveland said. “We don’t have those because we’re so crowded, and then we don’t have the funds.”
Last year, the ODOC requested about $1.6 billion for similar needs. They received about $485 million from the state.