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May 11, 2013

Prison workers feel trapped in political spat

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said the governor still has concerns about fiscal management at DOC and how the agency has spent and kept track of taxpayer dollars.

"If the money given to DOC had been allocated more wisely and reported more accurately, it is possible the agency would not be in the position it is today," Weintz said in a statement. "The governor has asked board members to work diligently and aggressively to pursue fixes at DOC."

When asked recently if she had lost confidence in Jones' ability to lead the agency, Fallin responded: "I'm going to withhold judgment on that until we're able to get more information from our new appointees to the Department of Corrections Board."

Meanwhile, prison workers at several facilities are being forced to work mandatory 12-hour shifts, five days a week, while others are required to work double-shifts or mandatory overtime.

During a violent outbreak involving nearly 150 inmates a few months ago at a state prison in Lexington, only six officers were available to respond and several suffered injuries trying to break up the melee, said Sgt. David Edelman, a guard at the facility.

"Officers and inmates are going to die from these situations," Edelman said, his eyes filling with tears. "We're tired. We're worn out. By the end of the summer, DOC is going to be at a complete breaking point. It will happen."

The starting salary for a correctional officer in Oklahoma is $11.83 per hour. Fallin has said she wants to await the results of a broad-based study on compensation of state employees before agreeing to pay hikes for any state workers.

Jones, meanwhile, said he hasn't ruled out the possibility of using money from the agency's discretionary revolving account to give prison workers a one-time bonus of $1,000 during the upcoming fiscal year if it's something the board supports. The price tag on that would be about $3 million, Jones said.

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