OKLAHOMA – Old, outdated and overcrowded – that’s what state officials said sums up the condition of the state prison system.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is asking for $800,000,000 to tackle those problems and build two new prisons.
“With facilities that are in need of $2 billion of infrastructure needs, two new prisons are definitely needed,” said Alex Gerszweski, DOC.
He said overcrowding is a main concern with and prisons are 109 percent full.
On top of that, he said the age of facilities limits technology.
“A lot of the prisons we inherited, they were hospitals. There’s one that’s a munitions plant, boys homes, girls homes,” Gerszweski said.
Age is another prison problem in the state.
Two of the oldest facilities, The Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite and the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, are both over 100 years old.
But, those against adding more prisons said doing so would be taking a step back.
Oklahoma recently approved two state questions aimed at decreasing incarceration.
“So, to go and built two new prisons is the equivalent of buying two big bottles of Jack Daniels the day after you decide to stop drinking. It’s inconsistent with our goals,” said Andre Speno, Right on Crime Initiative.
He said a better use of the state’s money is to support programs that keep people out of prisons.
“Oklahoma has the highest incarceration for women in the county, second highest overall. That tells us something is not working correctly, we are locking up too many people. The $60 million that it would cost each year to house inmates is equivalent to a $1,500 pay-raise for every teacher in Oklahoma,” Speno said.
But, state officials said it’s estimated the number of inmates will continue to rise and having the extra space of two new prisons is imperative to public safety.
In addition to insufficient facilities, manpower is also an issue within the DOC.
The turnover rate for staff is more than 30 percent a year.
“We have some of our corrections officers that qualify for food stamps. 36 percent of our workforce qualifies for food stamps with a family of four,” Gerszweski said.