When news of a private prison consultant’s plan to pitch building a private prison in Warner, Oklahoma surfaced; civic activists along with OPEA went to work to defeat the proposal.

“OPEA has a long tradition of opposing the building of more private prisons in Oklahoma,” said OPEA staff member Alicia Wright. “This proposal will be not different.”

Wright, a former Probation and Parole Officer, is a CLEET Certified Peace Officer and holds a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice from the Oklahoma City University.

“This corporation has never taken on a prison project before and from the lack of information available on the company, has very little experience in corrections at all,” Wright indicated about Detention Solutions Inc. from Tulsa Oklahoma.

Resident activists in Warner have expressed concerns about the location of the project and the impact a prison would have on the town of 1,500.

“It’s the same feeling citizens in Spavinaw and Lindsey had when proposals were pitched in their towns,” said Wright. “There are concerns with property values, drugs and lack of police protection in these small towns.”

According to Wright, the money trail always ends at the private prisons.

“Nearly one-half of New Mexico’s prisons and jails are run by private corporations,” said Wright. “States tend to turn to private prisons to deal with overcrowding and a cheap quick fix. In addition, private prison corporations have given over $3 million dollars to candidates across the U.S.”

Private prison companies favor giving to states with the toughest sentencing laws. Wright points out a shifting dynamic in the private prison pitch to decision makers.

“The private prison industry has worked from the ‘we can save money’ pitch, but are now coming to local communities with an economic development pitch,” she added. “The state must move to a rational, public prison program that could include the design, build, lease concept where a private company builds the facility, leasing it to the state after completion.”

Wright said DOC Council Chairman Mike Rogers will be placing a more aggressive policy regarding private prison expansion on the agenda for discussion at the next council meeting. Currently Oklahoma has six private prisons operating over 7,500 beds.

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