NORMAN — Justin Jones’ planned departure as head of the state Department of Corrections this week comes as no surprise to state Capitol political insiders. Mr. Jones, who began his corrections career as a probation and parole officer in 1977, has managed the massive department since 2005 but has been at odds with the governor and legislator in recent months.
He told The Tulsa World he would leave in October and that it was time to “turn the page and move on to another chapter in my life.” The state corrections board is expected to begin the replacement process at its meeting in Lexington this week.
Mr. Jones has been under fire since lawmakers and the governor questioned his department’s requesting a $6.4 million emergency supplemental budget request while three corrections revolving accounts contained about $22 million.
He also has been an opponent of sending more inmates to private prisons that profit from higher rates of incarceration. Some corrections workers theorize he was under pressure from private prison interests.
The supplemental request was similar to measures submitted in other years as inmate numbers grew with more and more sentence time. More inmates poured into the system, with fewer leaving each year. Sentenced inmates were farmed out to private prisons and backed up in county jails, like Cleveland County.
The pay, numbers of prison guards and aging facilities were an issue this legislative session as they have been for years. Turnover was high and some guards were working extra shifts to cover for vacancies. Some guards were predicting a summer of trouble as temperatures rise.