An Oklahoma Senate panel advanced on Tuesday the nomination of Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow to hold the job on a permanent basis.
Crow said preparing inmates to successfully re-enter society will be a focus under his leadership. That will build on a transition fair concept proposed by Oklahoma First Lady Sarah Stitt and used before hundreds of inmates were released in a wave of commutations in November to connect them with housing, jobs and other services.
"One of the things that we plan to do is, is not just have transition fairs, but to have transition programs that start six months to a year in advance of someone discharging. So, again, we prepare those individuals to be more productive citizens once they discharge," Crow said.
Asked about the possibility of releasing inmates six months to a year ahead of schedule if the COVID-19 outbreak grows, Crow said DOC does not have authority on its own to release inmates but is working closely with the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board on that issue.
To date, one inmate and nine DOC staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
Crow was also asked about the problem of prison gangs. He said it’s clear the Universal Aryan Brotherhood played the biggest role in organizing recent outbreaks of violence that led to two statewide lockdowns.
Prison officials are considering ways to deal with a minority of inmates causing big problems, like special segregation units, but those can have their own problems.
"I don’t want to have UAB prisons or Indian Brotherhood prisons because that creates its own struggles, as was present in California when they tried to do some similar types of things," Crow said.
Crow said continuing to intercept contraband phones or working with the Federal Communications Commission to bring jamming technology into prisons will also help.
Crow was made interim director in June and appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in December. With a Senate committee approving his nomination, he can be confirmed by the full Senate, but when and how that will happen with social distancing practices currently in place is unclear.