STILLWATER (TNS) — Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh has been sounding an alarm on the state of Oklahoma’s corrections system since he took the top corrections job in 2016.
The message he delivered Tuesday at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute town hall was consistent with that.
He sees a system in crisis, with a ballooning population of aging prisoners who drive up medical costs and understaffed, poorly maintained facilities holding too many people who don’t need to be in prison.
There isn’t enough funding for the types of programs that help inmates successfully transition back into society and avoid re-offending.
“We’re the Department of Warehousing, not the Department of Corrections,” Allbaugh said. “… There is no help in prison. We’re failing these folks.”
Gov. Mary Fallin expressed her concerns in a February press release announcing recommendations from the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, a group appointed by Fallin to do a comprehensive review of the state’s criminal justice system.
Its conclusions were meant to serve as the basis for criminal justice reform legislation that would keep Oklahomans safe while reducing recidivism and controlling corrections costs.
Allbaugh said he hasn’t seen any progress on that front from the Oklahoma legislature, but that isn’t the only problem the corrections system faces.
Allbaugh said he would classify only 6 percent of Oklahoma’s prisoners as “convicts”, meaning dangerous, hardened criminals who must be in prison to protect society. He calls the remaining 94 percent “inmates” and says many of them could be better served at lower cost through other types of programs.
“These are people who shouldn’t be in here,” he said. “… They’re people we’re mad at for some reason.”
Unless the state implements reforms, he foresees the prison population continuing to rise. His projections show Oklahoma’s prison population of 28,580 growing to 35,798 within ten years.
When a town hall participant asked what people can do about the problem, Allbaugh suggested they contact their legislators with this blunt suggestion: “Tell them to get off their duffs and make the tough decisions.”