Humphrey Asks for Emergency Declaration in Prisons
Mike Seals - June 18, 2021 9:46 am
OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Justin Humphrey, R-Lane, is calling for a state of emergency to be declared to address the shortage of corrections officers at state prisons. The current shortage of about between 300 to 400 correctional officers could result in fights or riots that can end in loss of life, a hostage situation or damage to the prison employees, inmates and state property, he said.
Humphrey said he’s worked with Oklahoma Correctional Professionals Director and former legislator Bobby Cleveland the past two years to determine the exact number the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) needs to fully staff all state prisons in order to keep staff, prisoners and the general public safe. He and Cleveland also have worked to secure raises for correctional staff to improve retention and recruitment to elevate staff numbers.
“It is well known among Oklahoma corrections’ officials and those in state government that Director Cleveland and I have been collectively laboring to bring real advancement for all staff and inmates in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections,” Humphrey said. “Those who have correctional experience understand and recognize a deficiency in correctional officers equates to increased contraband, increased inmate violence and an increase in inmate on staff violence. Tolerating and allowing this alarming negligence is an invitation to produce a catastrophic disaster.”
Humphrey said he and Cleveland successfully obtained a $2 per hour raise for correctional staff working in direct contact with inmates in order to help with retention and recruitment of staff to address the shortage.
“Unfortunately, many employees with inmate contact were left out of this raise,” he said. “We have continued to push for raises for all staff but especially to increase correctional officers’ pay. This focus is because we believe the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has an extremely dangerous, unsafe and hazardous work environment, and the officers are the most at risk. One of the largest contributing factors to this dangerous environment is a critical correctional officer shortage.”
He said the Legislature appropriated an additional $8 million this year to corrections this with the stated goal of improving the correctional officer to inmate ratio.
Humphrey said as the chair of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, he feels it is imperative for DOC to verify staffing numbers, something he’s sought for the past two years. He said he finds it ironic that correctional officers are required to precisely count approximately 21,000 inmates multiple times a day or face severe consequences.
“Yet, the correctional administration has failed to provide a confirmed officer count in a period of two years. The closest the administration has come to providing an officer count is somewhere between a 300 to 470 officer shortage.”
Humphrey said an officer shortage leaves prison staff and the inmates themselves unsafe. It could even result in ODOC being deemed criminally negligent for continuing to tolerate, with reckless disregard, a correctional officer shortage.
“Oklahoma was placed under federal control due to this precise pattern of negligence,” Humphrey said. “It is prudent for state officials to demand answers and verify information from our correctional administration. Based on my experience and knowledge of corrections, I am asking our state to declare an emergency and investigate our corrections’ situation immediately.”