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Oklahoma prison board asks lawmakers to triple agency's budget

The Oklahoma Board of Corrections voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the state Legislature to triple its funding next fiscal year and provide the agency with a $1.57 billion budget.

“This request is not a wish list,” said Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe M. Allbaugh. “This is what we need. Oklahoma continues to send more people to prison, and it costs real money to house, look after and provide those individuals medical care — all of which we are required to do.”

The $1.57 billion budget request includes:

• $884 million to add 5,200 beds to the prison system.

• $91.7 million to provide inmates with expensive hepatitis C drug treatments.

• $31.9 million for facility repairs, maintenance and critical needs.

• $18.5 million for staff pay raises.

The request comes at a time when state prison facilities are at 113 percent of capacity, with 1,993 inmates assigned temporary beds and 975 sitting in county jails, waiting to be transferred to prison, officials said. The inmate population is expected to grow by 2,367 inmates by 2026.

“We are bursting at the seams with over 27,000 inmates ... and the state has made little progress on justice reform,” Allbaugh said. “As we've said before, reforms passed last session will help slow inmate population growth but do little to unseat Oklahoma as the world's top incarcerator.”

Lawmakers appropriated $517 million to operate the Department of Corrections for the current fiscal year after the board initially requested $1.53 billion for projects that included two new medium-security prisons and $107 million for maintenance and repairs. Lawmakers also authorized a $116.5 million bond issue to help the agency pay for some of its needs.

The $1.57 billion budget request submitted Tuesday would include funding for at least one new medium-security facility for men and money to expand current facilities. No sites for such work have been chosen, officials said.

Corrections officials estimate more than 3,000 Oklahoma inmates have hepatitis C, which is caused by a virus commonly contracted through intravenous drug use or unsafe sex. Potential complications of the disease, such as liver failure or cirrhosis, can be fatal.

A full course of treatment costs an average of $29,203 per inmate, officials said. The department has requested legislative funding for treatment for several years, but it has never been provided.

The $18.5 million for staff raises that is being sought would include $3.9 million to increase the pay of security officers. The board is asking that the pay of cadet correctional officers be raised from $13.74 per hour, the region's lowest, to $14.74, which would be higher than two neighboring states but still below average, officials said. Similar pay increases also are being requested for higher ranking security officers.

The board also is asking for $7.3 million in pay adjustments for health services staff and a 5 percent pay increase employees who are not security, health services or temporary staff workers.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›