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Interim Corrections Chief: Parts of Prison System ‘Not Even in the 20th Century’

Michael Willmus-Oklahoma Watch

After a little more than a month on the job and touring more than a dozen facilities, Interim Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said he believes the agency is in a precarious position.

In an interview with Oklahoma Watch, Allbaugh, 62, said Oklahoma's prison system is dangerously antiquated and changes are needed. Among possible moves: leasing dormant private prisons and closing portions of outdated and dangerous state-run facilities.

Read the entire story here

A former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and former campaign manager for President George W. Bush, Allbaugh cited an outdated process that has reduced corrections staff to calculating offenders' early-release credits with a "Big Chief tablet and a calculator." Many facilities are overcrowded, understaffed and crumbling, he said. Finances are tenuous: Mid-year budget cuts will cost the department around $12 million.

Here are excerpts from the interview with Allbaugh:

Q: What was your initial impression of the prison system?

A: “My hope was that we would be in the 21st Century. I think in a lot of respects we’re not even in the 20th Century."

Allbaugh picks up a nearly five-inch thick prisoner’s file and drops it on his desk with a sold thud. “This goes back to the territorial days of prisons. Yes, we have a computer with software that’s 30 years old, but it’s key punch, which is ripe for human error. So everything is backed up with this stuff – paper.

“We have a basketball gymnasium at Kate Barnard (Community Corrections Center), it’s full of records. We can’t even use it for the women over here. That’s a mistake. That’s an error I’m going to change. This (paper) drives the system. Without this, we’re blind. We’ve got to do something to get us into the 21st Century.”

Q: How do you fix the state corrections system?

A: “Progress is made in small steps. The first thing I have to do is start telling the story about the department, its condition, its dilapidated facilities. A lot of the facilities need to be closed. We’ve got two of them, OSR (Oklahoma State Reformatory) and OSP (Oklahoma State Penitentiary) that are both over 100 years old. We have locks and doors and all types of mechanisms that do not work, so our correctional officers are at risk – hourly. And we only pay those guys $12.78 per hour, and we’re down about 700 on correctional officers. Hopefully, one silver lining to the oil and gas bust will be we can get back some of the people who were with us before and new ones, getting them trained and getting them back on the yards. We are staffed about as minimally as we possibly can be.”

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.