The search is on for a new Department of Corrections head.
The position came open last week with the abrupt resignation of Joe Allbaugh.
Gov. Kevin Still said the state has launched a nationwide search to find a new director. It obviously is a pressing need, but this job is an important one. The state needs to do its due diligence and make sure the right person is put in place.
The next DOC director will face quite the challenge: overcrowded and understaffed prisons; underpaid and overworked employees; crumbling infrastructure in dire need of repair; and developing a protocol for Oklahoma’s new and untested execution method — nitrogen hypoxia.
Many of DOC’s issues go back to money or the tough-on-crime stance that has pushed Oklahoma’s incarceration rates to among the highest in the country.
There hasn’t been funding invested into infrastructure in years, and the state of disrepair in many facilities shows the neglect.
Former lawmaker Bobby Cleveland, executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals, said DOC funding — or lack thereof — is such that the state can’t afford to buy correctional officers stab vests or walkie-talkies so officers can communicate behind bars with each other.
It’s obvious morale is going to be a big issue facing the next DOC director.
Although many correctional employees working inside prisons received a raise bumping their average pay from about $14 to about $16 an hour, it’s still hard to find employees to staff prisons, which mostly are located in rural areas.
For example, during a recent visit to a prison in Sayre, Cleveland said there were 2,200 inmates, but only 18 correctional officers on duty. Even with the pay raise, turnover remains high. Many employees work 60 to 70 hours a week, which affects their quality of life. They’re making more money but spending less time with family.
A new DOC director alone isn’t going to be able to solve the issues facing the agency. It’s going to take a concerted effort by the state. But, having the right person in place definitely will be a plus.