OK correctional officers concerned about prison overcrowding

By  | 

ATOKA COUNTY, OK -- As the inmate population rises in Oklahoma the state is struggling to keep its prisons staffed. Now the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, a group that represents correctional officers, says it has "grave concerns" about proposed cost-saving measures.

A 20-13 survey released by the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals says the state's ratio of correctional officers to offenders was the worst among 49 states and the group worries that the DOC's future plans could make state prisons dangerously understaffed.

Stefan Brown says he worked for the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown for 20 years until retiring two years ago. He says towards the end of his career there short staffing took a toll on officers.

"The last couple of years we were short all the time. Had to work doubles. Didn't really have enough officers to do everything that needed to be done," Brown said.

Brown says certain shifts had a larger ratio of guards to inmates.

"Sometimes there was one to 100, sometimes two to 100," Brown

Over the past few years, The Department of Corrections increased shifts from eight-hours to 12-hours in order to keep posts filled at many of the state's prisons, but DOC officials say their goal is to eventually go back to 8-hour shifts and that is what has the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals worried.

"How do you go back to eight hour shifts? You do that by requiring fewer officers to be on a shift and if we have escape issues at Mack Alford then that's only going to be worse," Sean Wallace, Executive Director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, said.

Jerry Massie, with the Department of Corrections, says there is no time table for when officers would go back to eight-hour shifts. He says right now the DOC is focusing on increasing staff. He says since April 1st they have hired 47 correctional officers.

The OCP argues many of those officers will not stay because of low pay, even with a recent increase in starting pay.

"Legislature passed a pay increase for some correctional officers and some other correctional employees this past session. It's a small increase, but at least it's a step in the right direction," Massie said.

Brown says for some newly hired officers making under $15 dollars an hour is not worth risking their safety.

"It's pretty tough when you first start, and I mean that's how they're going to keep, get people. More pay is how they're going to get people," Brown said.

Massie says currently the DOC is conducting a state prison staffing analysis to make sure they are properly utilizing all their resources.