In a presentation on the state of Oklahoma’s prisons on Tuesday, department officials outlined a corrections system in disrepair. The presentation was filled with stark examples of how chronic underfunding, understaffing and overcrowding have plagued the Department of Corrections.
“If we're not the department of corrections, what are we? Department of warehousing? That's a problem,” DOC Director Joe Allbaugh said summing up his thoughts after hearing the presentation.
Allbaugh has been a vocal advocate for solving the major problems at DOC since taking the job in 2015.
According to the DOC, Oklahoma ranks second in the total number of inmates and first in the number of incarcerated women. Right now, Oklahoma prisons are at 109% capacity and when the number of temporary beds or inmates waiting for cells is added in, that number jumps to 146%.
Things only get worse when age and mental health are added too. According to figures, nearly a quarter of inmates are suffering from mental illness in a population that's only getting older.
Rep. Bobby Cleveland (R-Slaughterville) was the only lawmaker who came to the Tuesday presentation. He scolded his colleagues who failed to pass three quarters of the criminal justice reforms last session.
“I'm going to demand that our leadership do better,” Cleveland said. “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.”
Other lawmakers, however, say too many changes too fast could be dangerous.
"Taking slow, measured steps to address this problem in Oklahoma will result in a better outcome," Rep. Josh Cockroft (R-Wannette) said in a statement,
Allbaugh made it clear, the clock is ticking and his department will be asking for $1.9 billion for next fiscal year.
“We will continue to ask for the funds that are necessary. Not what others believe are realistic or acceptable,” he said.