Update: OPEA Tackles Prison Closure Rumors

As rumors swirl at the state Capitol about the preliminary Architectural Study, and whether or not state prisons are at risk, OPEA says we are not waiting around to see if the rumors are true.

“OPEA is taking immediate action to ascertain whether the rumors coming from the state Capitol are true,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “Our staff members are at the Capitol each day fighting for information and fighting for your jobs. OPEA was the only organization to get a briefing on the results of the study and to be given a copy of the report summary. All other organizations are sitting around waiting for your jobs to be privatized and not saying a thing. The test of organizations effectiveness is what they do when the chips are down related to your job and your facility. Maybe these other organizations went fishing or maybe they just don’t care. They are certainly not effective.”

OPEA staff members have met with Senate and House staff to continue gathering information about this alarming situation. “We are very concerned with the current legislative scramble to address the rumors of prison closures,” said Zearley. “We are hoping everyone will withhold judgment on prison closures until after the final Architectural study is released and all the stakeholders have an opportunity to review and comment on it.”

DOC Director Justin Jones told the news media recently that there are no current plans to close any prisons in the state. However, he acknowledged the DOC recently received a legislative request to conduct a cost analysis study on the possibility of closing some state prisons.
The cost analysis from DOC has been finished and submitted to Senate leadership, according to OPEA sources.

Press reports from television and the print media continued this week as OPEA’s fight continued to gather steam. Oklahoma City television station KWTV Channel 9 reported the concerns of Senator Tom Ivestor, D-Elk City, who has the OSR facility in his district followed by a flat denial from Senate leadership including Senator Anthony Sykes who is the Chairman of the Sub Committee on Public Safety.

According to a recent press release Senator Sykes claimed, “In fact, there have been no discussions, in public or private, targeting any facilities for closure. Any talk of prison closing is based on speculation and on rumor and not based on any kind of fact.”

According to the Channel 9 report, Sykes’ response contradicts an internal DOC e-mail obtained by News 9. The e-mail references an “ongoing review of possibly closing James Crabtree, Mack Alford and OSR.”

Senator Sykes, in the report, said the DOC was absolutely wrong in this regard.

In a statement, Sykes blasted fellow Senator Tom Ivestor for speaking out against the reported plans. But Ivestor said that e-mail was not his only source of information. He points to a news release, put out by DOC Director Justin Jones. It uses the same wording as the inter-office e-mail.

“To me that’s pretty clear when they’ve been asked by legislative leadership to look at the possibility of closing some state facilities,” Ivestor said.

“If no one requested the analysis from DOC,” said Zearley, “then why was it done? It leaves us all with more questions which we are going to get to the bottom of.”
OPEA continues to be your voice at the Capitol meeting weekly with House and Senate committee leadership pressing for additional public prison beds. “We have worked in some of the worst conditions at Crabtree, OSR, Mack Alford and OSP for many years,” said OPEA Board member Mike Rogers, a unit manager at Crabtree. “Our reward should not include having our jobs threatened. OPEA stands with us and I am encouraging every employee to get behind the only organization fighting to keep these facilities open.”

“OPEA is committed to the employees in DOC and is proving once again that we are the only organization that can be trusted to work along side corrections employees to protect their jobs,” said Zearley. “If you are not a member of OPEA, here is another good reason to join with us.”

OPEA believes the battle is being won. “We are in constant daily contact with legislative leadership and we hope we are getting through,” said Zearley. “But the fight is far from over. Again, if DOC employees are not part of OPEA, now is the time to join to make sure your voices are heard. The louder we roar, the more they are going to listen to us and make sure your jobs are safe. We are also getting legislators into these facilities for tours and discussions with the employees. We are FULLY committed to protecting MACC, JCCC and OSR.”

OPEA expects to receive an advance copy of the report summary today; look for additional communication about the contents of that study coming soon. Join OPEA electronically by going online at www.OPEA.org or phone the office at 405.524.6764.

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