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Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director addresses problem with state prison system

(Source KSWO) (Source KSWO)
(Source KSWO) (Source KSWO)

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Oklahoma's Director of Corrections visited Lawton Thursday to address several problems our state's prison system is facing from over-population and under-staffing to aging facilities all while the state faces a budget shortfall.

Director, Joe Allbaugh said his department has already imposed a hiring freeze as part of a plan to save about 3-million dollars to get through the end of this fiscal year.  But he says a long-term fix is needed, which means more space to house the growing number of inmates, and more resources to treat their health problems behind bars.

Allbaugh is requesting three times more money than they got last year. That's 1-point-6 billion dollars for this fiscal year, part of which would pay for two new medium security prisons.  Those prisons would cost more than 840-million dollars and they are needed.
Right now the state prison capacity is at 109 percent and there are about 1,500 people waiting to enter DOC custody.

A request for the state to pay an extra 849 million dollars more than they did the last fiscal year for two new prisons.may be a lot to ask, but DOC Director Joe Allbaugh said lawmakers needs to take a good look at the overpopulation problem, and other issues such as staffing and facility upgrades.
"I know they have education and health and mental health and types of strains on that money but they have to prioritize and I know they are going to do that and I hope they will treat corrections as a core function of government because were the first line of defense when it comes to public safety and if they don't fund us properly we are going to have an accident" Allbaugh said.

The state of Oklahoma is already facing a budget hole of nearly 900 million dollars.  

The tight budget and growing expenses at the DOC have led the agency to take a look at every possible area to save money and reduce cost. It will be tough on lawmakers to figure out how to allocate money to all agencies statewide,  but funding for prisons is necessary.

 "Well because at some point the feds are going to step in and take over the system and they will dictate what the legislature has to do and I don't think that's fair to the citizens or the taxpayers of Oklahoma. Our legislature ought to design plans and programs and ways to fund those plans that would not only address our current over population but would put programs in place that could help with a down turn of the incarceration rate," Allbaugh said.

To help with the overpopulation problem back in November of 2016 Oklahomans voted in favor of state question 780, which reclassifies criminal offenses, like drug possession and property crimes, to misdemeanors instead of felonies. While this is expected to help overcrowding, Allbaugh said it will take time.

"When you make changes to criminal justice it takes a while for the system to adjust to those changes. It wont be immediate, but I would urge the citizens of Oklahoma not to give up hope," Allbaugh said.

Another topic discussed was inmate health care. The DOC is requesting about 160 million dollars for funding to maintain standards while contending with rising medical costs, an aging population, treatment needs, and the need for mental health care.

"Mental health issues tend to be not the cornerstone but one of the reasons why so many people are locked up is because they commit crimes, they don't have access to the medication that they need to control their illness or they are not in the right program. It's just a very difficult issue and much like the rest of the population people like to treat it out of sight and out and out of mind they don't want to address the ugly underbelly of society," Allbaugh said.

 Allbaugh said he is hopeful the state can get through the budget crunch and the DOC wont have to layoff any employees.

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