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January 18, 2014

Arizona prison official to head Okla. corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Board of Corrections voted Friday to hire an Arizona prison official to head the Oklahoma Department of Corrections after the longtime director resigned last summer amid highly publicized clashes with the governor’s office and legislative leaders over finances and the growing use of private prisons to house inmates.

Robert Patton, 50, division director of operations of the Arizona Department of Corrections, was hired at an annual salary of $160,000 to succeed Justin Jones, who spent about seven years as DOC director.

“I look forward to his tenure and a successful and long-lasting term as director,” said board Chairman Kevin Gross.

Patton’s hiring also comes about a year after Oklahoma’s package of prison reform laws, known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, was approved, but has since fallen from favor.

Patton said that he is aware of the initiative touted in 2012 as way for Oklahoma to reduce its prison population, help inmates with health or mental problems and save money on future prison spending, but has since gone largely undone or unfunded.

“The packet was given to me last night, I have not read it yet so I cannot comment on it,” Patton said.

Patton said he met with Gov. Mary Fallin Thursday and that she expressed a desire for an open and transparent relationship, without getting into the running of the Corrections Department or pushing for more inmates to be housed in private prisons.

“Her concerns are the same as mine, are our prisons safe, are our staff safe, are our offenders safe,” Patton said.

Fallin issued a statement praising the selection.

“Robert C. Patton is an experienced and skilled manager,” Fallin said. “He knows how to run an agency and manage a large budget. Most importantly, he is dedicated to keeping his prisons safe for both guards and inmates.”

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