Caroline Isaacs, Arizona area program director for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, said it isn’t coincidence that Oklahoma hired a prison chief from a state where there is a strong push for more private prisons.
“In Oklahoma, you had a corrections director who put his foot down and said private prisons don’t make sense,” said Isaacs, whose group opposes private prisons and acts as a government watchdog. “He (Jones) was a pain in the butt for the for-profit prisons … He was fairly outspoken about the problems in those facilities, and that is why they forced him out.”
Jones resigned last year after issues arose over whether corrections staff had been open about money in revolving funds and lawmakers rejected the agency’s budget request.
Jim Klein, a retired 20-year Arizona corrections officer who runs a website that advocates for prison guards, agreed that Patton will adopt the will of policy makers if they want more private prisons.
“Robert Patton is the perfect choice for Oklahoma if the governor is looking for a yes man,” Klein said.
Patton said he would adopt the same policy in Oklahoma that has worked in Arizona — that is, if policy makers want more private prisons, then it’s the director’s job “to make it work,” he said.
Patton said the trend across the country is for states to use private prisons because they don’t have the capital to fund the construction of new facilities. In Arizona, private prisons also are required to turn the facility over to the state after 20 years of service.
Patton said in Oklahoma he only would support adding private prisons for minimum- and medium-security inmates, and he would hold them accountable.
He said that is exactly what occurred after three prisoners escaped from a medium-security private prison in northern Arizona in July 2010. The inmates then went on a crime spree that included the murders of Gary and Linda Haas, of Tecumseh, who were killed while traveling in New Mexico.
“The day the Haas family from Oklahoma was murdered was the toughest day in my correctional career,” Patton said. “I vowed from that day forward that it (escape) would never happen again and the proof is in the pudding. Arizona has set a model for accountability in private prisons, and it’s one of the things that attracted Oklahoma to me.”
Patton said following the Kingman escapes, the department installed new monitoring tools in private prisons.
“We admitted the shortfalls from day one. We vowed to fix those problems, and we have done that,” Patton said.