OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has announced plans to move about 1,400 inmates out of a medium-security private prison in Cushing that has been the site of some of the state’s worst prison violence in recent years.
The decision announced late Thursday is part of a cost-cutting move as a result of a $24 million budget cut, which is about 4.4% of the agency’s annual budget, said DOC spokesman Justin Wolf.
The prison, operated by Tennessee-based CoreCivic, employs about 290 people, many of whom will be provided the opportunity to transfer to other facilities the company operates in the state, said CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin.
“We will continue to offer Cimarron Correctional Facility as a potential solution to meet the needs of other government partners,” Gustin said in a statement.
Under the terms of the state’s contract with CoreCivic, there is no financial penalty to the state for moving the inmates, Wolf said.
The Department of Corrections offered operators of each of the state’s three private prisons the option to decrease the number of inmates being held by about 500 each, but CoreCivic opted instead to shutter its Cushing facility, Wolf said. The state will continue to house inmates at CoreCivic’s 1,600-bed Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville and a 2,600-bed private prison in Lawton operated by The Geo Group, Inc.
Oklahoma has had one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates for years, but the state’s first-term Republican governor has embraced several policy initiatives designed to reduce the state’s prison population. As a result, Oklahoma has seen it’s prison population decline by nearly 13% since June 2019, Wolf said.
In November, more than 450 inmates walked out of the doors of prisons across Oklahoma in what state officials said was the largest single-day mass commutation in U.S. history.
The Cushing facility has been the site of some of the state’s worst prison violence in recent years, including the killing of four inmates in 2015 who were stabbed in quick succession while being let out of their cells into the exercise yard. A few months earlier, between 200 and 300 inmates at the facility were involved in a brawl in 2015 that left 11 inmates hospitalized.
In 2017, five prison guards were injured in an attack that erupted after a guard used pepper spray on an inmate who refused to obey orders.
“That was a very dangerous place, very poorly run,” said Bobby Cleveland, the head of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, which represents state prison workers. “I couldn’t tell you how many complaints I’ve had about that place.”