Prison Workers At "Breaking Point," Seek More Funding

May 9, 2013

Oklahoma prison workers say they are worn out due to staffing shortages, low wages and the increasing prison population.

Sgt. David Edelman presents his case for increased pay for Department of Corrections workers Wednesday at the state Capitol while other prison workers look on.
Credit Kurt Gwartney / KGOU

About a dozen uniformed prison guards visited the state Capitol Wednesday, urging lawmakers to reconsider their decision not to support a pay raise for workers at the Department of Corrections.

“DOC is at a breaking point,” said Sgt. David Edelman, an officer at the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center. “We are being forced to do 60-to-80 hours a week, and used to we could ask for overtime, but not anymore, we’re being forced.”        

A $12 million proposal to give prison workers a five percent pay increase stalled earlier this session in a House committee.

"We are being forced to do 60-to-80 hours a week," Sgt. David Edelman

That bill was the top funding request from the Department of Corrections, which received no additional money as part of a budget deal reached between the governor and GOP legislative leaders.

“Officers are facing foreclosures, officers are facing divorce, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and our life expectancy is 58 years old,” Edelman said. “We have the 14th most violent state in the United States, but we’re paid 49 out of 50.”

The department has experienced a 14 percent decline in the number of employees and an 11 percent increase in the number of inmates during the last decade.

State officials, including Fallin’s chief budget negotiator Preston Doerflinger, have said one reason corrections did not receive any additional funding is because of how it reported money in reserve accounts.

Oklahoma Corrections Professionals Association board president David Ramsey says lawmakers need to spend less money on private prisons and instead fully fund the state's own facilities.