Wednesday, April 24, 2019
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Is Alabama a warning to Oklahoma?

Joe Allbaugh
Joe Allbaugh

A State House committee recently approved a bill to pay Oklahoma law enforcement agencies an extra $ 2 an hour. The increases are necessary and the enforcement of the bill is encouraging, but the legislature needs to keep an eye on the big picture with regard to the correction department.

This picture includes aging prisons that house far more inmates than they were intended for. While the number of inmates has decreased in recent months, there are still around 27,000 (including those waiting to be transferred from the county jails).

Prisons have a capacity of about 112 percent and have stayed in this area for a long time. DOC director Joe Allbaugh said that meeting all system needs would require more than $ 1.5 billion from the legislature. 60 percent of it would go to new prisons to expand the system by 5,200 beds.

Allbaugh points to Alabama as an example of what might happen here. After investigating the prisons of that state, the Ministry of Justice recently briefed Alabama's representatives that the rights of the eighth amendment to the inmates had been violated. It cited the violence of prisoners and detainees and sexual abuse, which was "aggravated by serious shortcomings in staffing, oversight and overcrowding".

Former US Rep. Bobby Cleveland, now head of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, says the ratio of inmates to law enforcement officers is 87 to 1. Obligatory overtime is routine at COs – and therefore sales. Correctional officials say about 70 percent of the Oklahoma COs aboard were five years or less on board.

Rep. J.J. Humphrey, R-Lane, home author of the $ 2 salary increase, recently wrote in The Oklahomans the DOC "has a staff shortage of 45 to 50 percent and the problem seems to get worse." If approved, the increases should help to some extent.

Even more support is needed. In Alabama, a federal court threat led lawmakers to approve a budget that provides law enforcement officials with 500 additional COs. The governor of this state has also proposed to build or rent three prisons.

Oklahoma legislators wisely approved a $ 116.5 million bond for prisons maintenance and repair last year. They also approved $ 517 million for the current fiscal year, an increase over the previous year.

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