Community fires back after DOC announces work center closures

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TISHOMINGO, Okla.- If a recent decision by the Oklahoma Department of Corrections stands, 15 DOC centers across the state will close in just six weeks.

“We were given no ability to make any input into this,” said Tishomingo Mayor Tom Lokey.

Lokey said when they found out their inmate labor was coming to an end they called their local legislators, but they had no knowledge of it either.

“From what I was told they put the items on their agenda within the hour of the legal limit for the cut off for that,” Lokey said.

He said the city averages about eight inmates a day, and he’s heard as many as 30 a day throughout Johnston County.

DOC spokesperson Alex Gerszewski said the move to close the work centers was not meant to be a hardship, but a way for the DOC to be more efficient.

“The bottom line when deciding to consolidate these work centers at OSR was the $17.6 million price tag the agency can no longer afford subsidize the communities,” said Gerszewski.

Gerszewski said the new consolidated work center in Granite will be leased from the Corrections Corporation of America at $37.5 million over a five-year period, but will be run by the state.

The DOC will pay nothing for the first 18 months, $4.5 million for the rest of Fiscal Year 18, then $10 million, $11 million and $12 million for the next three years, respectively.

The $37.5 million averages to $7.5 million a year, which means the DOC would need to operate a consolidated work center, with the same number of inmates, at an operating cost of less than $10 million a year to beat the current set-up.

Though they don’t know how much it will cost to operate the new work center, Gerszewski said they believe the move will save money.

Woody Jumper, interim Tishomingo City Manager said it’s a move that will cost the county between $200,000 and $250,000 a year, and that’s money they don’t have.

“We will get things done for the people, but it will be at a much slower pace and it will be hit and miss at times,” Jumper said. “So I’m just asking the citizens of this fine town to bear with us.”

Gerszewski said communities with medium or minimum security prisons in their area are allowed to get a work crew from that prison.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin also recently signed House Bill 3039, which allows counties to create their own work release programs and use detainees for community labor. The bill goes into effect November 1.

It’s not the first DOC funding issue to hit Johnston County.

The county jail has been struggling with funding for the last year, since the DOC’s decision to house inmates in private prisons instead of paying the jail to house them.

A resolution was unanimously passed by the Tishomingo City Council on Monday to request their local legislators look into the work center closures officially.

The resolution now moves to next month’s Tishomingo City Council meeting agenda for final approval.