OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is reneging on contracts it negotiated with at least two Oklahoma communities to provide facilities and funds to establish inmate work release centers, two state Representatives charged Monday.
The state Board of Corrections voted May 5 to approve a plan by interim Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh to close the agency’s 15 work centers across the state and transfer those 1,171 inmates to the State Reformatory at Granite. The 114-year-old reformatory will become a minimum-security institution, Corrections Department Communications Director Terri Watkins said.
In turn, the 1,183 medium-security inmates housed at Granite will be moved to a privately owned prison at Sayre. The department plans to rent the North Fork Correctional Facility from Corrections Corporation of America for five years, starting in June. The contract allows the state to rent the 18-year-old facility for free for the first 18 months; the next three and a half years will cost the state $37.5 million. North Fork was closed last year after California removed its inmates from the facility.
State Rep. Johnny Tadlock, D-Idabel, has requested a meeting with Allbaugh to discuss the pending changes.
The Corrections Department inked a “Memorandum of Understanding” with the City of Idabel and the Idabel Industrial Authority, concerning a community work center in Idabel, on 25 May 2011. Records indicate the Oklahoma National Guard turned over its armory in Idabel to the City of Idabel for use as an inmate residential and work center.
The McCurtain County Community Trust contributed $100,000 for renovations to the armory. The City of Idabel donated the converted building to the Corrections Department for use as a community work center. A quit claim deed on the building, which was filed with the McCurtain County Clerk on 5 March 2014, provides that title to the building reverts to the city should it “cease to be used” by the state agency.
Watkins said all 15 work release centers are operated under contracts that expire on June 30 each year.
The Idabel work release center houses 90 state convicts, some of whom are employed by the city and the county in areas such as sanitation, maintenance of the county fairgrounds, and trash collection, Tadlock related. The offenders are paid $27 per month, Watkins indicated.
“I realize that it’s not up to the state to provide jobs,” said Tadlock, the former sheriff of McCurtain County. “But our community has invested time and money and a donated building for this program. Will Corrections reimburse us for that $100,000?”
In addition, “The only way local residents who are employed at our work release center could keep their jobs would be to move to Sayre or Granite,” Tadlock continued. “Yet they have ties to our community. Idabel and McCurtain County have had an expectation that this work release center would remain in operation.”
Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, concurred. His district includes the Earl A. Davis Work Center at Holdenville. It houses 69 inmates, some of whom work for the City of Holdenville and some who work for Hughes County.
“Why is Corrections pulling inmates out of these work release centers, when state prisons are at 122% of their design capacity?” Kouplen wondered.
The Idabel work center costs $1,028,000 to operate for one year, and the Holdenville center costs $1.1 million annually to operate, ledgers reflect. “That doesn’t include medical expenses,” Watkins added.
The annual operating cost for all 15 work centers, including medical, is $17.7 million, Watkins said. The average cost per inmate housed at a work release center is about $42.35 per day, compared to an average daily cost of $41.75 per day for a minimum-security prison, the Corrections Department claims.
MIKE W. RAY
Media Director, Democratic Caucus
Oklahoma House of Representatives