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DOC has the attention of Oklahoma lawmakers

The operations of the Department of Corrections are on the minds of lawmakers in a variety of ways as the 2020 legislative session looms.

One member, Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah, wants to do away with the nine-member state Board of Corrections, which has overseen the DOC since its creation in 1967. The board was expanded from seven members just last year, but Thompson would prefer to see it eliminated altogether.

As The Oklahoman’s Carmen Forman reported, Thompson was irked by one board member’s actions in September as the DOC was dealing with a rash of gang-related fights inside several prisons.

“We had a board member in that control room trying to give orders and trying to be in charge, and we’re dealing with public safety,” the lawmaker said. “We can keep the people safe without board members actually trying to interfere.”

That incident aside, Thompson believes the board is unneeded. He noted that the Department of Public Safety, for example, operates without a board, and that the state has a secretary of public safety and a public safety commissioner. We’ll see whether his colleagues in the Legislature agree with his push.

The DOC also has the attention of state Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, who is concerned a prison in Fort Supply could be closed.

Murdock issued a news release this month urging people to support the minimum-security William S. Key Correctional Center, one of five prisons he said could be considered for possible closure.

The head of the DOC, Scott Crow, said he wasn’t aware of five prisons being considered for closure. Instead, Crow said, he and other officials, including the governor, are “looking at the system as a whole” to identify efficiencies.

The goal is to determine which prisons have the most significant infrastructure issues and which ones are operating most efficiently, and trying to find better ways to run Oklahoma’s prisons.

It’s a worthwhile pursuit, one previous DOC directors have championed. The prison system is rife with buildings that weren’t constructed as prisons, and with buildings that are aging and breaking down. William S. Key, which opened as a state prison in 1988, was the grounds for an Army supply base in the late 1800s, and beginning in the early 1900s it operated for decades as a mental health hospital.

Any serious attempt to reform the corrections system in Oklahoma should include perhaps closing some prisons. But doing so would impact workers, and that’s the rub — Murdock said shuttering William S. Key, which employs 170, would be devastating to the area.

The senator is looking out for constituents, and such blowback is expected. But it shouldn’t deter the DOC — or any agency — from seeking to do what’s best for all Oklahoma taxpayers.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›