To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Observercast

Hard, But Necessary Decisions

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I live in small town Oklahoma, specifically Lexington, population about 2,000 conservative souls. However, a few miles east of town, there are two major prisons containing more than 4,000 inmates and employing over 700 full-time state workers. These facilities are by far the biggest “businesses” in southern Cleveland County and should they close the economic impact would, like the Fort Supply area, have a devastating impact here.

However, these prisons were built in the late ‘70s, not before statehood in 1907 as was Fort Supply, and have received significant expansions for specialty programs and construction modernization. Alcohol treatment, a mental health unit, private sector job operations, state-run employment training functions and medical units for aging inmates all exist at either the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center or its neighboring medium security facility called Joseph Harp.

Therefore, I am sympathetic to the job loss out in western Oklahoma, which is a serious and growing problem in the rural counties while metropolitan parts of our state are enjoying job growth. But prisons are expensive to operate and some cannot be kept opened when the overall population in the entire system has dropped from about 26,000 offenders to 21,000, which equals five prisons. With each costing around $20 million per year to maintain – salaries, utility bills, food, etc. – we’re talking about serious money per 1,000-bed entity even at the minimum security level, which Fort Supply is.

Tricia Everest, the new Public Safety cabinet secretary, deserves great credit for speaking truth to power and not being intimidating by Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, who, of course, is doing his job in representing his constituents by demanding Fort Supply remain open.

It shouldn’t be and won’t be if I am reading the tea leaves on this issue correctly.

Gov. Kevin Stitt, of course, waited until the Legislature went home to initiate his plan to close the place and we only know about it today due to the local newspaper spilling the beans about its demise. It was doing what a paper should do by reporting the news, which led to much consternation among employees, powerful economic issues and, of course, local pols who simply have been dealt a losing hand.

And if sentencing trends continue, Fort Supply may be just the first of several lock ‘em ups that will be on the chopping block.

For what it is worth, I strongly recommend that if more closures become necessary the privately owned and for profit penal places be shuttered ahead of state facilities because they, on average, are more costly per inmate to operate and additionally why should the criminal justice system be driven by making money rather than meting out reasonable justice for crimes committed?

It shouldn’t and there are private prisons to evaluate for shut down.

Oklahoma has 23 large centers for incarceration, as well as numerous smaller ones. The entire Department of Corrections budget is a cool $500 million.

Remember, for those who either agree, or disagree with me, I just report. You decide what’s right … or wrong and, therefore, should provide your opinions to, as President George Bush would say, the deciders.

And that ain’t me anymore.

Cal Hobson
Cal Hobson, a Lexington Democrat, served in the Oklahoma Legislature from 1978-2006, including one term as Senate President Pro Tempore.