OK Department Of Labor Investigates Prison Conditions

Friday, May 16th 2014, 6:42 pm
By: News 9

State labor officials tell News 9 they are conducting investigations into prison safety across Oklahoma. The confirmation came days after the Department of Labor opened an investigation into conditions at the State Capitol Building.

Department of Corrections (DOC) employees sounded the alarm, Friday, by calling for improved working conditions. Prison guards said they work in hazardous conditions, according to Oklahoma Corrections Professionals (OCP) director Sean Wallace. OCP is an association that represents the interests of DOC employees.

"It's a scary situation," said Wallace. "It's only getting worse."

On Tuesday, News 9 showed viewers a crumbling State Capitol Building that a labor official said helped spark an investigation. Following the Tuesday report, OCP sent News 9's Michael Konopasek a tweet that read: "We invite the dept of labor to tour any prison in the state. REAL safety issues."

"We have prisons that have cells that the doors don't lock," Wallace said. "That's a safety issue."

Besides the need for structural improvements, Wallace said the DOC needs more staff to end a nightmare of 12-hour shifts. He said the long hours are to blame for many safety hazards. Last week, Wallace said a DOC officer was killed when he fell asleep behind the wheel. He was working 60 hours a week, according to Wallace.

"We try to make ourselves very accessible to employees," said Diana Jones of the Oklahoma Department of Labor.

Jones works to make sure Oklahoma follows Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards. She tells News 9 she is already investigating the DOC and welcomes more complaints.

"Every public employee has the right to file a complaint without fear of reprisal from the employer," said Jones.

Details of investigations stay private until completed, and the process can take time, according to Jones. The process is frustrating for prison workers.

"I don't think we've gotten much of a response or help from the Department of Labor before," Wallace said.

State and local public employees can file complaints here.

Complaints concerning private companies or federal government agencies, go straight to the federal government at OSHA.

The DOC declined to give comment for this story.