Hostage situations, escapes and gang violence are just part of the problems at Oklahoma jails and prisons. State lawmakers say they've had enough.
The Senate Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee met with experts Wednesday to chart a path toward a safer corrections system for inmates and corrections officers alike.
“No one's talking about a jail like a Holiday Inn,” Rep. Justin Humphrey, R- Lane, said. “We’re talking about things when people have real medical issues. We’re talking about violence on inmates, rapes, things like that that occur.”
The state corrections officers’ union told lawmakers prisons are hemorrhaging employees due to poor work conditions and low pay.
“We can’t hire people fast enough, as fast as they’re quitting,” Bobby Cleveland with the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals said. “DOC will continue to have a staffing shortage until there’s a workplace environmental change within DOC.”
Humphrey said low staffing levels lead to more problems.
“You see more contraband, more violence, inmate on inmate violence, it increases the inmate on staff violence, and then what you’re going to see is these incidents like you’re talking about near misses on riots,” he said.
The Department of Corrections did not respond to News 9’s request for comment Wednesday.
At the local level, the Oklahoma County Detention Center was top of mind for lawmakers.
“You have an inoperable fire alarm system, smoke alarm system, intercom systems and inoperable cameras,” CJAC Consultant Wayne Snow said.
Asked about building a new jail, Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert said, “I am certainly in support of a new jail… the big question is how will we pay for it. Cost estimates for building a new facility are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”