To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Friday, December 2, 2022


Crony Capitalism Has Taken Over Oklahoma’s Penal System



Coates,HarryFormer Gov. Frank Keating started a dangerous trend when he allowed Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ inmates to be transferred to private prisons. Today, this trend continues and is being encouraged by the governor and legislative leaders who pass laws continually increasing punishments and sentences, which ensures a growing inmate population.

This trend has allowed Oklahoma to become the top state for women incarceration and No. 4 for men. Our prisons are overflowing and understaffed.

Prison guards are grossly underpaid for their dangerous occupations to the point that they can hardly provide for their families, which leads to a high turnover rate and continued staffing problems.

It’s odd that state leaders and lawmakers won’t approve a raise for DOC employees but will pay more per prisoner to send them to a private prison.

I don’t blame DOC Director Justin Jones for resigning. He’s been fighting a losing battle for years.

I agree with him that the premise behind private prisons is disturbing. He’s not alone in his belief that it’s ethically and morally wrong to profit from incarceration.

Unfortunately, we’re in the minority, and current state leaders want to use these facilities even more.

Where is the incentive to help keep people out of prison or properly reintegrate them back into society so they don’t end up back behind bars?

The Legislature continues passing stricter laws causing more people to be locked up and to serve longer sentences. Therefore, it appears that lawmakers want our state-run prisons overflowing so they can send more people to private prisons – all at a high cost to taxpayers.

This isn’t surprising, however, given the generous financial contributions the private prison operators give to political campaigns. The Legislature has now even abandoned the recent efforts of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative working group that laid the foundation for legislation to improve the state’s criminal justice system.

It defies logic that we would choose to rely on the more expensive private prisons rather than passing legislation to help lower the population within our own corrections system.

For instance, addressing the strict and excessive sentences for nonviolent offenders most of which are drug addicts or alcoholics and need drug and alcohol counseling, not to be locked up the rest of their lives.

They have an illness that’s treatable but Oklahoma isn’t providing them much help because then legislative leaders would appear “weak” on crime.

Oklahoma’s policymakers need to get serious about corrections reform and address the issues that contribute to incarceration including high poverty, substance abuse and lack of education.

By addressing the social problems that lead to a life of crime and helping people before they get arrested, we could drastically lower Oklahoma’s incarceration rate.

We wouldn’t need private prisons in Oklahoma but, unfortunately, I don’t see that happening in the near future.

Harry Coates, a Seminole Republican, represents District 28 in the Oklahoma Senate



  1. I have been involved in this system since 1999. How can we fight this losing battle? I only pray CCA brings a few more Puerto Ricans that will tear their prisons up a few more times. It is a monster…I have a relative in this CCA system with diabetes, and it is not good.

    It is very similar how people gambled for the cloth Jesus wore at His crucifixion. How can people pay money for broken lives? It will end some day…watch my word…and when the walls are torn down…we can praise the Lord. Until then death, disease, hunger, gangs, drugs, rape, and disgust will prevail.

    I love Justin Jones…he has been a giant among the blood sucking human consumers….may he be blessed and may he rest with a job well done.

  2. Rep Harry Coates, I do hope and pray you will check out the link I will include. My husband spent 8 years in a private CCA facility in Oklahoma and the horrors are incalculable. Private prisons have no accountability, not subject to open records, poor training, staff is told to falsify documents, slow play documents for inmates due to be released (even a year or more) all in the name of PROFIT. Keep fighting the good fight and let me know what I can do to help.

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.