Pushing to reduce prison overcrowding, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has quietly changed its policies to give early releases to greater numbers of violent and sex offenders, according to agency documents obtained by Oklahoma Watch.
The department is doing so by relaxing policies that determine which types of inmates can receive early-release credits, when those credits can be given, and how many credits offenders can receive, corrections department records show.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt says the state does not have the drugs on hand or the medical staff prepared needed to carry out a Nov. 13 execution, and is requesting a delay until January.
In a notice filed late Friday with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, Pruitt formally asked the court to delay the upcoming executions of Richard Eugene Glossip, John Marion Grant and Charles Warner.
Two news organizations have filed a federal lawsuit accusing Oklahoma prison officials of violating the First Amendment by preventing reporters from viewing portions of a botched execution.
Monday's lawsuit follows the April 29 death of inmate Clayton Lockett, who writhed, moaned and clenched his teeth before dying. Prison officials halted the execution after discovering a problem with an intravenous line. Lockett died of a heart attack about 10 minutes later.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ effort to shift thousands of state prisoners out of county jails has resulted in nearly two-thirds of state prisons being over capacity.
The Corrections Department is placing many inmates in designated “temporary” beds in various common areas of prisons, such as a gymnasium or day room.
In a related move, the agency is proposing to revise how it determines the maximum capacity of its prisons, by using a higher “operational” capacity that includes temporary beds, on top of the current “rated design capacity” — the number of inmates a facility is designed to hold. Under operational capacity, the current reported percentages of occupancy at many prisons could drop from over to under 100 percent.
The recent inmate population growth is raising concerns from the head of the state correctional officers’ group, who says safety is being compromised because inmates are being added while correctional staffing levels remain inadequate.
“I think it’s absolutely putting them (officers) in a dangerous spot,” said Sean Wallace, director of Oklahoma Correctional Professionals. “I’ve heard it from staff before … but now I’m hearing it directly from officers – they’re afraid to go to work.”
According to the corrections department’s Aug. 4 count of inmates, 16 of the state’s 24 minimum-, medium- and maximum-security prisons were at more than 100 percent capacity. The number slipped to 15 the following week. Five facilities had more than 100 inmates above their official capacity limits.
A recent audit of Oklahoma's prison system recommends more financial oversight from the governing board and a closer look at the increasing cost of health care.
The performance audit released Tuesday by State Auditor Gary Jones was requested by Gov. Mary Fallin following the resignation of former Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones.
The audit includes 10 recommendations to help the department reduce costs and better manage its inmate population. Among the recommendations is the creation of an audit committee to help the board ensure financial accountability.
In Robert C. Patton, Oklahoma is getting a new corrections director from Arizona who is more than willing to use private prisons as a means to deal with inmate overcrowding.
“I’m a (prison) bed manager. I’ll tell the policy makers I need beds, and if I can convince them that I need beds, then it’s their jobs on whether it’s public or private,” said Patton, whose first day as Oklahoma Corrections Department director began Tuesday.