The Norman Transcript

Local news

October 7, 2013

Private prison growth spawns differing views

NORMAN — Oklahoma prisons continue to see a growth in inmates, who are pushed into a system that’s bursting at the seams.

The number of inmates housed at state-run and private prisons in Oklahoma now exceeds 26,700 and is only expected to rise. Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections budget is stagnant, although corrections officials have discussed seeking additional funds from the Legislature before the end of this fiscal year.

Cramped conditions at state prisons have led to an increased use of private-prison beds in the state. Over the past year, the number of private-prison beds leased by the state has risen by about 1,000 inmates, to more than 5,800.

That number soon could increase even more, say two members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives who are working on criminal justice issues.

“It’s a crisis in the state,” said Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, who announced that his re-election campaign next year would focus on criminal justice reform. “I don’t think the general population has any idea of the magnitude.”

The state prison system is running at more than 98 percent capacity, and inmates are backed up at county jails across the state, waiting for bed space at prisons to open.

Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, who is overseeing several corrections-related interim studies, said overcrowding at state facilities has compromised public safety. Staffing levels hover around 60 percent, causing correctional officers to work multiple double shifts per week at many of the prisons, he said.

Blackwell said increasing private-prison bed space by about 3,000 beds would alleviate some of the pressure on the state system.

While the three private prisons the state currently contracts with are at near-capacity, two other facilities — the Diamondback facility in Watonga and the Great Plains facility in Hinton — remain vacant. Both facilities have been working to fill bed space with out-of-state inmates. Moving inmates to one or both of those facilities would help the state reduce hours for correctional officers, Blackwell said.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local news
  • N7 Sooners come together to serve Native American youth

    Whitney Wofford has faced some tough competition as a part of the Oklahoma tennis team. However, on Wednesday, Wofford may have taken on her biggest and most rewarding competition yet at the Sooners For N7 event at the Oklahoma football ...

    April 10, 2014 3 Photos

  • Is Okla. backing off accountability?

    One by one, K-12 education reforms passed in previous years by Oklahoma lawmakers are being targeted for weakening or repeal....

    April 19, 2014

  • Hope Trunk travels to Norman

    The rustle of paper could be heard as students meticulously folded one crane, then another and another Friday afternoon. After reading the inspiring story, “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” Cleveland Elementary School fifth graders ...

    April 19, 2014

  • Congressman Cole reflects on recovery

    Congressman Tom Cole’s home in Moore was not hit by the May 20 tornado but it came pretty close. His wife has made it clear she wants a saferoom, he said. In a visit to the Transcript on Friday afternoon, Cole talked about tornado ...

    April 19, 2014

  • Gaylord to get $35,000 grant for poverty project

    A team from Gaylord College is among the first winners in a national competition to fund innovative news experiments that serve communities, the Online News Association has announced....

    April 19, 2014

  • Garage sale to benefit Team Jamie’s Crew set

    A garage sale to benefit Team Jamie’s Crew will start at 9 a.m. today at 1510 Melrose Drive....

    April 19, 2014

  • Singing Sooners show set

    The University of Oklahoma School of Music presents the Singing Sooners Spring Show at 8 p.m. Friday, April 25 in the Sharp Concert Hall, Catlett Music Center. Jim Graves and Stephen Ziegler serve as directors for the group....

    April 19, 2014

  • Easter event planned Sunday

    The Firehouse Community Outreach Disaster Relief Center, 800 S. Santa Fe in Moore, will host an Easter Eggstravaganza at 10 a.m. on Sunday....

    April 19, 2014

  • Little Axe students eligible for GEAR UP University

    Little Axe Public School students entering the ninth-12th grade in the fall 2014 are eligible to apply to GEAR UP University, a summer academic and leadership program available only to 24 state school districts during June 2014....

    April 18, 2014

  • Chamber Banquet During annual banquet, Chamber of Commerce promotes moving Norman forward

    Amidst the backdrop of music, dancing, dinner and fellowship, business leader Mike Fowler announced that the time for a quality-of-life initiative in Norman has come. As incoming Norman Chamber of Commerce board chairman, Fowler and ...

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo