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City officials upset about losing inmate work centers

Walters Community Work Center (Source KSWO) Walters Community Work Center (Source KSWO)

WALTERS, OK (KSWO) -City officials in Southwest Oklahoma are angry with the state for closing their inmate work centers.

Last week, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced that as a result of the state's billion dollar shortfall, it would shut down the state's 15 work centers and relocate those inmates to the state prison in Granite, which would become the newest work center facility.

Communities would still be able to use inmate crews, but would have to come and get them. Local officials say that's not practical since they rely on those inmates for daily city projects, such as collecting trash, mowing and repairing streets.

Half of the work centers are located in Southwest Oklahoma, including one in Walters.  The Walters city manager there, as well as the Grandfield city manager, said people just don't realize how big a blow it is to lose that labor supply.

"These work release workers, they could serve the people of Oklahoma....that's gone now," said Grandfield City Manager Randy Clark.

Clark's frustration over the decision boiled over as he shared the impact it will have on his town, including one project that he's already secured funding for. 

"I have a grant through Oklahoma Parks and Recreation Services to rehabilitate our lake out here and build a restroom in the park. We've got to match that 80 percent with in-kind. We've documented the in-kind with labor and materials and it's a very intensive project. I don't know how I'm going to do it now," Clark said.

Walters City Manager John Sheppard says to replace the inmate labor with paid city staff would force them to pass the cost along to the residents of Walters at a price that's simply too high to pay.

"It would be about $200,000 a year in wages and benefits, and based on the number of houses we have here in Walters, we're talking about another $10-$12 dollars per household per month," Sheppard explained.

Sheppard says closure for their city will be even harder because they own the Walters Work Center Building, which will be vacant after the inmates move to Granite. So, the city will still be responsible for the upkeep. Sheppard isn't sure if the city can find another use for the building.

In the meantime, city officials are looking to find a way to reverse the decision and set aside the frustration.

"Little consideration given to us, right at budgeting time, they're letting us know or haven't officially informed us, we got to find this out our selves just like our state legislators did that we will be losing these crews, and that has drastic implications for our community and others," Clark said.

Clark says the inmates are frustrated with the decision to close the work centers as well because they feel like the opportunities won't be as hands on.

The plan to transfer the inmates to Granite will begin July 1.

The state says closing the inmate work centers will save about $19 million a year. The other centers in our area affected by the decision are located in Altus, Frederick, Hobart, Hollis, Mangum and Waurika.

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