Corrections budget request approved

The state Board of Corrections unanimously approved on Tuesday the Oklahoma Department of Corrections 2020 budget request from the State Legislature.

The $1.57-billion request includes $884 million to add 5,200 beds, $91.7 million for inmate hepatitis C treatment, $31.9 million for facility repairs, maintenance and critical needs, and $18.5 million for staff pay raises.  

“This request is not a wish list,” ODOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh said. “This is what we need. Oklahoma continues to send more people to prison, and it costs real money to house, look after, and provide those individuals medical care – all of which we are required to do.”

Tuesday’s vote took place during ODOC’s October board meeting at Northeastern Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita.

ODOC Director Joe M. Allbaugh

The request from the state’s fifth-largest agency (by appropriation) comes as it struggles with an inmate population expected to grow 2,367 inmates by 2026. As of Tuesday morning, 1,993 are housed in temporary beds, 975 sit in county jails, waiting to transfer to prison. State facilities were at 113 percent capacity Monday morning.

“We are bursting at the seams with over 27,000 inmates inside 24-facility system – and the state has made little progress on justice reform,” Allbaugh said. “As we’ve said before, reforms passed last session will help slow inmate population growth but do little to unseat Oklahoma as the world’s top incarcerator.”

For this year, ODOC received $517 million from lawmakers, after originally requesting $1.53 billion for projects including two new medium-security prisons and $107 million in maintenance and repairs. To fund those, the agency is proceeding with a $116.5 million bond issue per Senate Bill 1590 passed last session.

Agency leaders hope state lawmakers consider ODOC’s 2020 request in the upcoming legislative session next year as they do those of other state agencies.

“Oklahoma needs to invest in its prison system now,” BOC chairman Frazier Henke said. “The sooner we invest in our infrastructure, the sooner we begin saving taxpayer dollars in the future.”

5,200 beds system-wide
2020’s $884 million request for more beds reflects a continued emphasis by ODOC to make space for its inmates and future growth.

The beds will be added in the form of at least one new medium-security facility for men and adding on to or expanding current facilities. No sites for such work have been chosen.

$91.7 million for hepatitis C treatment
ODOC estimates more than 3,000 inmates have hepatitis C, caused by a virus commonly contracted via intravenous drug use or unsafe sex.

The disease is common in inmate populations worldwide. Its potential complications, such as liver failure or cirrhosis, can be fatal.

For several years, ODOC has requested funding from lawmakers to pay for hepatitis C drugs for its inmates, which cost an average of $29,203 for a full course of treatment per inmate. The funding has never been provided.

$31.9 million in facility maintenance and repairs
ODOC facilities need a variety of critical repairs and maintenance. They range from installing a fence around a previously unfenced facility, new sewer lines and doors at others, to upgrading faulty electrical equipment and plumbing.

Lexington Assessment and Reception Center is a state prison for men owned and operated by the ODOC.

The fencing, estimated to cost $1.4 million, is for Jackie Brannon Correctional Center, a male minimum-security prison originally built as a hospital. JBCC also needs $3.7 million in upgrades to its electrical system.

JBCC sits on a 1,300-acre parcel of land just east of the state’s oldest prison, Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

OSP, a century-old, maximum-security prison, is the site of Oklahoma’s death row for men, and needs $5.7 million in repairs and other maintenance. That includes new sewer, water and gas lines, hot water and storage tanks, hot and cold water service lines, and security camera equipment.

ODOC’s FY 2020 requested repairs are above and beyond those addressed through the $116.5 million bond.

Staff raises

Recruits during classroom instruction

ODOC requests $18.5 million in staff raises include a $3.9 million to increase security officer pay. That includes a raise for cadet correctional officers from $13.74 per hour, the region’s lowest, to $14.74 – which would be higher than two neighboring states but still below average. Officers, corporals, and sergeants would also see increases.

Also included is $7.3 million in pay adjustments for health services staff.
Rounding out the pay request is a 5-percent pay increase for all non-security, health services and temporary staff.  This is to bring pay in line with industry standards and attract more health professionals to work for ODOC, currently struggling with a worker shortage.

A full description of ODOC’s budget request can be found here.

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