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Staffing At Oklahoma Prisons Reaches 'Critically Low' Levels

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By Jon Jordan, NEWS 9

LEXINGTON, Oklahoma -- State budget cuts have forced prisons across the state to cut programs and put staff counts at critically low levels.

At Oklahoma's Lexington Assessment and Reception prison, the philosophy the last few years has been 'doing more with less.' In light of the cuts, the Lexington prison is operating with 200 employees, down from 300 from just a few years ago.

The cuts have prevented the warden from filling vacant positions and now employees are having to be furloughed at least three days out of the year. To make matters worse, all of it comes at a time when the inmate population continues to grow.

"We are so full that there are now 1,200 inmates at county jails from around the state waiting to come to Lexington," said Warden Eric Franklin. "When the Department of Transportation has cuts, they can stop building roads, we don't have that luxury. We can't stop accepting inmates."

The cuts have gotten so severe at the minimum security area, one prison guard is now left having to oversee 277 inmates by himself.

"I am one officer here, I won't physically stop two guys from fighting so I have to call for help to keep someone from getting hurt," said prison guard Brian Davis. "My biggest fear is me not being able to go home at the end of my shift, that's my struggle every day."

The concern for Davis' safety is top of mind for prison officials.

"I would hate for there to be a tragic situation in which we lose control of one our physical plants or some of the staff is injured, inmates are injured, due to the lack of resources," Franklin said.

Since taking over as warden 18 months ago, Franklin has watched his prison's budget drop nearly $2 million. The warden said the lack of funds has also forced him to cut important programs, including his sex offender and substance programs. The programs are designed to treat the inmates so it's less likely they become repeat offenders.

"When they come to Lexington it's been our goal to make them a better person then when they arrived, we can't do that anymore," said Franklin.

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