Fallin’s top attorney says Okla. prisons are safe

By SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

December 27, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Despite a recent report that Oklahoma’s ratio of prison guards to offenders is among the worst in the nation, Gov. Mary Fallin’s top attorney said Thursday that he doesn’t believe safety is being compromised at the state’s prisons.

Fallin’s general counsel, Steve Mullins, said he meets regularly with the interim director of the Department of Correction and is not concerned that there is a problem with staffing levels at the state’s prisons jeopardizing the safety of workers or inmates.

“I don’t think we see any evidence that the Department of Corrections is sacrificing safety,” said Mullins, a former federal prosecutor who has served as Fallin’s chief negotiator on corrections issues since he joined her staff two years ago. “We believe it’s more of a management problem than a staffing problem.”

Correctional officers at about half of the state’s 17 prisons currently are working mandatory 60-hour work weeks, and a survey released last week by the Oklahoma Corrections Professionals showed the state’s ratio of correctional officers to offenders is the worst among at least 49 states. The survey indicates that Oklahoma has one officer for every 11.7 inmates, compared to a national average one officer per 5.5 inmates.

“I’m shocked beyond belief that you can actually make that statement,” said David Ramsey, a 21-year DOC veteran who works at Joseph Harp Correctional Center, where a female case manager suffered a broken nose after being attacked by an inmate last week. “That’s completely outrageous to think you’re going to stay alert and sharp and manage a unit of 160 offenders with one officer … when you’re working 60 hours every week.”

The longtime director of Oklahoma’s prison system, Justin Jones, announced his resignation last summer amid disagreements over the growing use of private prisons, a concept Jones refused to endorse. Fallin also had been critical of whether the agency properly documented money held in reserve, which led to the agency receiving a flat budget for the current fiscal year despite an increasing number of inmates.