OKLAHOMA CITY – As lawmakers continue to battle at the Oklahoma Capitol about a budget, corrections officials say they are in dire straits.
Earlier this week, Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh told board members that the agency has a record number of people in the system.
“Today, we have 62,000 in our system,” Allbaugh said. “What bothers me is back in December, we hit a record population of 61,000. It has taken just four months for an additional 1,000 people to be included in our numbers of incarcerated, supervised, and county jail backup.”
In December, Allbaugh announced that the department had extended over its capacity, which could put the public in danger.
“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.”
Instead of getting better with time, the problem has only gotten worse. Now, officials say there are 62,000 people in the correctional system.
Currently, officials say almost 34,000 people are either on probation or parole, being GPS monitored or are under community supervision.
Also, 26,380 people are incarcerated in prisons and halfway houses, while 1,755 people who have already been sentenced but are waiting to be transported to a correctional facility.
Agency officials say that state prisons are currently at 109 percent inmate capacity, and that relief is needed.
“Programs are the way to get us out of this pickle long-term. In the short-term, the only thing we can do is hope and pray the legislature will step up and give us the necessary money to acquire, rent, beg, or borrow more additional beds to handle the influx,” Allbaugh said.
In March, the Department of Corrections implemented a purchasing freeze as a way to save money after being told find places to cut $2.96 million.
“As we continue to make difficult choices as an agency, we are exploring every avenue to fill this budget hole,” Allbaugh said. “We are running out of areas to cut from without jeopardizing the safety and security of the public and those within our facilities. With the purchasing freeze in place, we will keep safety at a premium while not balancing the budget on the backs of our employees.”