NORMAN — Oklahoma began contracting to place inmates in private prisons during Gov. Frank Keating’s administration in 1995. Today, more than 5,000, or 23 percent, of our inmates are in the custody of three private prisons.
The Tulsa World’s Barbara Hoberock reports that the average cost to place an inmate in a private prison is $43.18 per day. It comes at a time when the inmate population is growing and the state’s corrections budget remains flat.
We have received reports of guard understaffing and double shifts at the prisons in Lexington. Additionally, a proposal to increase the starting salary of guards will not be taken up this legislative session.
Last year, the World reports, the state spent nearly $73 million on private prisons, compared to $57 million in fiscal year 2004.
Private prisons relieve pressure on crowded state and county prisons, but as their use increases and the state comes to rely on them, daily costs are likely to rise, according to some critics.
Hoberock reports the state has closed cells at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester and sent those inmates to private prisons.
A legislative study identified near $500 million in improvements needed at state prisons. That kind of investment would help reduce the state’s reliance on contractors.