OK Prisons Crowded, Funds Low

8-11-05 – Oklahoma state prisons come in dead last in officer-to-inmate ratio, prompting a group of Democrat senators from local districts to work on a plan.

The Mack Alford Corrections Center in Stringtown is squeaky clean, but this century-old prison suffers many of the same problems found at prisons across the state. Prisons are overcrowded and understaffed.

“Here at this facility, you may have 120 inmates on one floor. On the other floor, you may have another 80, but you've got one correctional officer trying to watch 180 inmates on two different floors and it doesn't work,” says Sen. Kenneth Corn, chair of the Senate budget subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary.

The state democrats devised a $20 million plan this summer that would increase prison staff, add a pay hike and develop programs for mentally ill inmates. They say corrections officers need more incentives to work: low pay discourages, but not having enough officers, if a riot should occur, is even scarier.

“It’s always in the back of your head. I was here in '88 when the other riot occurred. You don’t think about it, but when you see something starting, you get on top of it a lot quicker,” says Lt. Keith DeWitt, a Mack Alford corrections officer.

A statement from the Senate Republican leader says he doubts the Democrats are serious about supporting public safety funding in the state – saying that their proposal for more prison funding seems more like the political equivalent of a “deathbed conversion” than a legitimate change-of-heart.

But Democrats hope legislators will take a look at their plan sooner, rather than later. They say it won’t cost any extra tax dollars outside the proposed budget.

"We can pass this plan tomorrow but there’s no sense in us going back until the house gives it the concern it deserves,” says Sen. Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant.