State Department Of Corrections Reckoning With Staffing Decisions At Key Correctional Center


Friday, October 15th 2021, 5:23 pm
By: Anjelicia Bruton


WOODWARD COUNTY, Oklahoma -

Employees at William S. Key Correctional Center are preparing for the prison to close at the end of the year. Some employees are choosing to transfer, but one employee said that's not an option for her.

Former correctional officer Valerie Burkhart said Woodward is her home.

“We had no idea, nobody knew,” Burkhart said. “It was pretty devastating.”

Burkhart described the news as a slap in the face to her and her coworkers.

"A lot of coworkers -- they have to uproot their whole lives and move or travel. I feel disappointed. I feel like the state of Oklahoma failed us. Department of Correction(s) failed everyone," Burkhart said.

Inmates are being transferred to other minimal security facilities in Oklahoma. For staff, some are transferring to any facility where there's a need for their position.

The Department of Corrections said there's several reasons it's untenable to keep the prison operating such as justice reform, a low level of need for minimal security beds and millions of dollars in renovations.

“There’s a $2,500 relocation stipend offered to sort of help with those first and last month’s rent, things like that. The down payment for utilities and things,” Oklahoma Department of Corrections chief administrator of communications Justin Wolf said. “Also, state statutes provide up to $10,000 of reimbursement for relocation expenses.”

Burkhart said these incentives weren't enough so she resigned in August.

“I am a single mom and I cannot drive an hour one way to another facility,” Burkhart said. “I just bought my house a year ago. I worked entirely way too hard to give it up. My support system is here: my family.” 

Burkhart decided to go back to school to become a licensed massage therapist. She said money is tight now, but she believes it will be all worth it.

“I’m actually not keeping it together. This has been an emotional, physical, mentally exhausting couple of months for me,” Burkhart said. “I decided I didn’t want another place to fail me, so my whole dream is to open my own shop.”

The Department of Corrections will keep a small staff at the prison to maintain prison grounds until the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services takes over the facility.

Wolf said they’re working closely with local entities who are interested and the historical society, as well.