Changes Appear on the Horizon for Department of Corrections

Changes are occurring at the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) and OPEA is taking a proactive role in making sure that the voice of the OPEA members from DOC is heard by lawmakers as decisions are made that affect this important agency and its employees.

Long-time DOC Director and OPEA member Justin Jones announced his retirement that will occur later this year. Jones is concluding a long and distinguished career that saw him work in different capacities at the agency. DOC members want to make sure that Jones’ replacement will be one who will work with front-line staff to alleviate some of the pressing issues that correctional professionals face in their day-to-day work. OPEA will work to meet with the new director soon after he or she is selected to forge a good working relationship.

DOC employees continue to be paid at a rate much lower than they can make in other jobs. This gap has contributed to the low staffing at DOC as well as high turnover. OPEA is working with state leaders responsible for the current study of state employee compensation so they understand the specific issues facing DOC employees across the state. It is important for leadership to understand that DOC wages are not only significantly lower than those paid in other similar careers but also below what other employers like oil and gas industry employers pay in parts of the state. DOC competes with oil and gas companies for the same workers in many regions of the state.

OPEA is actively participating in discussions with legislative leadership and the Governor’s office about the importance of bringing state employee compensation closer to what workers can make elsewhere. Despite the knowledge that most state workers make considerably less than their private counterparts, Oklahoma’s legislature continues did not fund any pay raises for DOC staff or other state employees. OPEA is the only employee advocacy participating in these talks.

Many legislators have said that they understand the need for increased compensation. However, it was clear during the 2013 session that no increases were going to be granted until after the compensation study was done. It is likely that future pay increases will be linked with employee performance. This approach is much different than the practice of appropriating funds for an across –the-board pay increase is an indication of the conservative nature of current leadership.

DOC staff has expressed concern about Oklahoma’s use of for-profit prisons instead of DOC correctional facilities. OPEA believes that with adequate resources, Oklahoma’s DOC professionals are best suited to perform the duties necessary to house and monitor offenders. One of OPEA’s main purposes is to oppose the use of private contractors in situations where state employees are a better resource to perform functions. OPEA continuously educates officials about the benefits of using DOC employees and facilities instead of private contractors.

Gov. Fallin’s office has called for an “investigatory, operational and performance audit of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections” to be conducted by the state auditor’s office. The study will also look at agency’s management and operational efficiency and how the agency spends its money.

Part of this audit will be a review of a 2007 audit that included a recommendation to abolish the department’s governing board. That recommendation was not accepted. In 2012, the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services was abolished making that agency’s director accountable directly to the Governor’s office. It is possible that a similar outcome will be sought for the DOC board.

All of these changes and potential changes can appear overwhelming for agency staff. OPEA will continue to advocate on behalf of the hard-working men and women who help keep Oklahoma safe. The Association is also a resource for members who have questions or concerns about their agency and need assistance with issues that may arise. In recent years, OPEA has assisted the employees of other large state agencies through changes that have occurred.

Much has been asked of DOC employees over the years and it is time for Oklahoma to support those employees as they do the job that many Oklahomans do not want to do themselves. OPEA is there also to support our members as they carry out the agency’s mission.


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