Facing chronically overcrowded, rapidly deteriorating facilities, Oklahoma’s prison director is seeking to triple his department’s budget in hopes of reversing decades of deferred maintenance and neglect that has jeopardized a linchpin of public safety, the Associated Press reports. “We’re not a listing ship. We are a sinking ship,” Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh said after the state Board of Corrections approved his nearly $1.65 billion budget request for the year that begins July 1. “I’ve had several legislators ask me if I’m serious. I’m deadly serious about this,” Allbaugh said. “Corrections is a core function of state government. Our No. 1 priority is public safety, and public safety at our facilities is currently at risk.”
The budget request seeks about $10 million to pay for a 5 percent salary increase for corrections workers to help recruit and retain staff and more than $123 million to repair defective equipment and structures at 17 state prisons and six community corrections centers. It seeks almost $850 million to build two 2,000-bed medium security prisons to accommodate what the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force estimates will be 25 percent growth over the next decade — more than 7,500 inmates — to an overcapacity population of almost 27,000. “The Oklahoma taxpayer has a right to know what kind of shape their property is currently in,” Allbaugh said. Among other things, the electronic panels that control locking devices on individual cells “malfunction all the time,” he said. State lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin say the request is unrealistic after successive years of budget shortfalls due to declining revenue largely from low energy prices.