Corrections, public safety need more officers, better pay
BY World's Editorials Writers
Friday, March 22, 2013
3/22/13 at 7:08 AM
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections budget has been cut by almost $25 million in the past five years. The Department of Public Safety budget has been cut $10 million in the same period.
Oklahoma's prisons are dangerously understaffed. For example, the Dick Conner Correctional Center in Hominy, which houses 1,200 inmates, more than half of whom are deemed violent, currently has 80 corrections officers, where it is authorized to have 132, says Warden Terry Martin. Only one officer is assigned to a unit that holds 160 inmates.
With a hot summer approaching, that is a recipe for disaster.
Corrections officers at Connor, as at most of the state's prisons, are working mandatory double shifts, some of them four times a week. And they haven't had a pay raise in seven years.
Lt. Cecil Dooley, who works at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, said DOC workers "are at a breaking point."
Likewise, the Department of Public Safety is losing Highway Patrol troopers to other law enforcement agencies, in some cases out of state, because of low pay.
So what is the reaction of the governor and Legislature to this dire situation? Well, they're talking about cutting taxes, again.
The quarter-percent cut in the personal income tax top rate that is being pushed by Gov. Mary Fallin would cost the state $120 million and mean a $39 a year tax break for the average Oklahoman. A pay increase for corrections officers and patrol troopers would cost about $20 million.
A DOC pay raise bill introduced in the House by Democratic legislators failed to be heard on the House floor, because it was authored by Democrats.
The governor and Legislature know full well what the situation is with Oklahoma's prisons. To ignore the problem while pursuing another income tax cut is irresponsible. It's a good bet that most Oklahomans would willingly give up McDonald's and a movie one night a year for the peace of mind that adequately staffed corrections and public safety departments would bring.
Too bad our elected leadership can't see that.
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