Oklahoma prisons are in such bad shape that the state has been fortunate to avoid a major prison riot, Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said Tuesday.
The system is suffering from aging facilities, low staffing, skyrocketing medical costs for aging inmates and no budget increases in the face of growing inmate populations and decreasing paroles.
“You can’t pack people into facilities that are decrepit and expect everybody to behave. You can only push this balloon so far. Something is going to pop,” Allbaugh told the Oklahoma Board of Corrections at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
6/27/17 Related story: DOC Outlines Disrepair, Disarray In Oklahoma Prisons
Allbaugh delivered to the board a 58-page report on the state of the Oklahoma prison system.
“We’re drawing that line in the sand, that at some point we’re going to be incapable of taking more prisoners in our existing system,” he later told reporters.
The prisons are operating at 109 percent of capacity, according to the Department of Corrections. If inmates in contract facilities were moved to state prisons, the system would be at 146 percent of capacity.
Add to that crumbling infrastructure, such as century-old former hospitals and school buildings converted to prisons, leaving no room in the system budget to address such emergency repairs as failed boilers and burst water pipes. It also forces personnel cuts or the use of temporary housing, said Laura Pittman, director of population, programs and strategic planning.
Over the next 10 years, 25 percent growth in the prison system population would demand construction of two new prisons and one for women at a cost of $1.2 billion, plus $700,000 million extra to operate them, Pittman said.
If the budget isn’t adjusted to meet these needs, “people are going to die,” Allbaugh said. “The clock is ticking.”
State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, attended the meeting. The Slaughterville Republican agreed the state is lucky it hasn’t had a major prison riot.
“I’m going to demand that our leadership do better. I’m not going to tolerate it any more. I’m not going to sit back and be quiet. I’m going to demand we do better and get these bills out,” he said.
Not everyone is convinced, though.
“Taking slow, measured steps to address this problem in Oklahoma will result in a better outcome,” state Rep. Josh Cockroft, R-Wannette, said in a statement.