Are They Suggesting a New Public Prison?

The fact that Oklahoma prisons need about a half a billion dollars in repairs and renovations, according the study by the Durrant Group, comes as no surprise to OPEA and its members in corrections. OPEA has been advocating for new public prisons in Oklahoma for the last 10 years. According to OPEA, the organization may have found an ally.

“In his remarks on the popular television segment, Your Vote Counts,” said OPEA Deputy Director Scott Barger, “Public Safety and Judiciary Appropriations Chairman Randy Terrill is quoted as saying that, ‘a fair reading of this report by anyone suggests that it is our maximum security infrastructure that is in the most need.’ This is a pretty broad statement and one that requires additional clarification. We would like to know if Representative Terrill is suggesting that the state needs a new publicly owned and operated maximum security prison?”

The architectural and engineering analysis of Oklahoma’s prison facilities was conducted for the Legislature by Iowa-based Durrant Group for about $415,000. The study recommended about $220 million in renovations to Oklahoma’s 17 prisons and another $292 million to add an extra 2,600 beds. The consultants suggest the Legislature should consider demolishing and replacing most of the antiquated maximum-security prison, along with a few other prisons in the state, because of rising maintenance and renovation costs.

The report indicated that nearly $130 million of the $512 million in needed improvements were items tied to housing inmates such as medical care, kitchens and programs. Another $293 million is for expansion costs associated with adding 2,600 beds to existing prisons.

According to suggestions made by Representative Terrill, the money might be better spent in building a new maximum security prisons for which a recent editorial July 20th, in the Oklahoman might agree. The Oklahoman, an often reluctant advocate for state government seemed to agree asking ‘What’s next” and saying that “taxpayers rightfully expect something concrete to be done.”

Does that signal it’s time for Representative Terrill to provide the leadership that will finally lead to a modern public prison strategy?

“Is this a turning point in Oklahoma’s corrections strategy?” asked Barger. “It is too early to tell, but when you have the Oklahoman offering a position that is either neutral or supportive and Representative Terrill pointing to the maximum security needs, it begins to look like Oklahoma may be ready for change.”

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