|The Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester|
Overcrowding, lack of programs, botched executions create dilemma that might not be reversible
Oklahoma's prisons are ugly, ancient, overcrowded and in total disrepair, according to Department of Corrections Interim Director Joe Allbaugh.
But that's only a part of the problem facing DOC, he said during a public forum hosted by Oklahoma Watch Tuesday night at Kamp's 1910 Cafe in downtown Oklahoma City.
The state prison population is 122 % of capacity and the DOC's budget is typically funded at 75 % of its total request to the Oklahoma Legislature. In addition, programs designed to help prisoners are being slashed because of Oklahoma's $1.3 billion revenue failure, which in reality, has hurt every state agency, Allbaugh admitted.
"We have facilities that need to be closed," the interim director said, noting that Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester is more than 100 years old. "We have facilities that are in pretty good shape and we have some that need attention. The prison population is growing and there is no place to put people. We have 60,000 people in our system and 1/2 are incarcerated in public or private prisons."
Allbaugh told the Kamp Cafe crowd only 7 of the state's 17 prisons were intentionally built as prisons. Others were former boys homes, girls home, gymnasiums or mental health facilities.
He specifically mentioned William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply, a minimum-security prison, which in January was finally equipped with a perimeter fence.
"That would be important for a prison," said Allbaugh, who headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He stayed at the agency until 2003 when the Homeland Security agency was formed, a decision Allbaugh opposed.
Allbaugh, a Blackwell native, also worked on George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns and served as Gov. Bush's chief of staff until 1999.
Re-entry and educational programs have been cut system-wide because of the excess number of prisoners, a problem that can only be corrected through vigorous criminal justice reform, he said. The space typically used for programs has been turned into bunkbeds for prisoners.
"The criminal justice code in Oklahoma is the engineer of the train that's brought us to this point," Allbaugh said, noting the lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key mentality doesn't apply anymore in modern era corrections work.
The Department of Corrections also is saddled with a lack of guards or correctional officers, which number about 1,800. The disparity between the numbers of guards who oversee the 30,000 prison inmates left Allbaugh shaking his head.
"It's only through the grace of God that the prison population and gangs let our guards go home every night," he said.
The safety scenario, plus the fact that most DOC employees haven't had a pay raise in 11 years, complicates daily operations and morale.
"I'm sitting side by side with you at work and you got a pay raise and I didn't. How do you think that works?" Allbaugh asked the crowd.
Since being named interim director in January, Allbaugh has tried to bring some new ideas to the corrections department. One thought is to lease buildings from closed private prisons in Watonga and Sayre and move inmates to those facilities from current state-run prisons that Allbaugh would prefer to shut down due to high operating costs.
"We would operate them (Sayre and Watonga) with our own protocols and procedures," he said.
The Watonga private prison closed in 2012 and the Sayre facility closed at the end of December 2015.
"Taxpayers have a dog in this fight and we need to spend money wisely," he said, of closing the more inefficient, outdated prisons. "I'm callin' 'em like I see 'em." If Allbaugh didn't already have enough problems on his plate, medical costs for an aging prison population is skyrocketing, and so is the amount needed to transport inmates from prison to prison or from various county jails to one of the state or private prisons. The only dialysis unit for DOC is located at the Lexington prison, which creates a backlog for older prisoners, and some vehicles in the DOC fleet have more than a million miles.
Those are 2 examples of the ancillary issues Allbaugh faces with an overcrowded prison population that nets 1,200 to 1,600 new inmates every year.
Allbaugh quickly discovered after his hiring the agency's high-tech software intended to track each inmate's credits and history wasn't high-tech at all. The software was purchased 20 years ago, but was already 10 years old when it was bought.
As a result, DOC officials are forced to "use the system as when we were a territory," Allbaugh said, holding up a 2-inch thick file of 1 inmate. "We have to rely on paper files because the software doesn't work. Their credits, their life history is right here."
During a question and answer session, Allbaugh was asked about resuming executions in Oklahoma and if he thought the multi-county grand jury might indict prison officials associated with a botched execution and an indefinite stay of at least 2 others.
Allbaugh had no comment on the grand jury, but said he believes the department is ready to resume executions at OSP in McAlester. Allbaugh, a death penalty proponent, said he's "totally confident" kinks in the execution process has been eliminated. He also said it's likely executions would likely resume in early fall.
Oklahoma's execution protocol came under heavy scrutiny in September when prison officials discovered they did not have the lawful drugs to execute convicted killer Richard Glossip, whose life already had been spared on a previous occasion when an appeals court ruled in his favor. A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said in September the DOC purchased potassium acetate instead of potassium chloride, which was approved earlier in 2015 by the U.S. Supreme Court as 2 of the 3 drugs used in Oklahoma's executions.
The spokesman claimed at the time the drugs are similar and the stay was granted "out of an abundance of caution." However, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt later requested Fallin grant an indefinite stay of execution until the entire ordeal could be settled. The multi-county grand jury later began investigating the drug mix-up. After the mix-up occurred, then-DOC Director Robert Patton and OPS Warden Anita Trammell retired. Patton and Trammell both testified before the grand jury before leaving the DOC.
The resignation of Fallin's legal counsel, Steve Mullins, soon followed. Mullins testified before the grand jury. At this point, government officials have not directly linked the resignations or Trammell's retirement to the DOC drug investigation.
Pruitt and attorneys for the death row inmates agreed executions would not resume until 150 days after the grand jury issues its report.
Source: reddirtreport.com, April 13, 2016