OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma’s prisons chief resigned amid disagreements over whether more state corrections facilities should be run by private companies and whether his agency properly documented money held in reserve, but the governor’s office said Tuesday she did not ask for him to step aside.
Corrections Director Justin Jones announced to his staff Monday that he would quit effective Oct. 1. Prisons agency spokesman Jerry Massie said Jones gave no reason for his departure and the agency head did not return a telephone call seeking comment Tuesday. A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin issued a statement saying she had not asked Jones to quit but said she would not be available for an interview.
“The governor appreciates Director Jones’ many years of service to the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin spokesman Aaron Cooper wrote in an email.
The head of an organization representing corrections workers said Tuesday that he believed Jones was pressured out of a job Jones has held since 2005.
“We met with Justin last week. He told us his days were numbered,” said Sean Wallace, the executive director of Oklahoma Corrections Professionals. He said Jones told the group that Gov. Mary Fallin’s office had stopped accepting his telephone calls.
“There’s just been a steady drumbeat,” Wallace said. He said Jones told the group: “Whenever the governor wants me to resign, you just tell her to let me know.”
Wallace said he believes conflict between Jones and elected state officials over the use of private prisons to house state inmates led to Jones’ resignation. He said some state lawmakers want to increase the rate private prisons are paid for housing state inmates but are opposed to boosting pay for state corrections workers.
Jones told the Tulsa World on Monday that he questioned who should run state prisons.
“You know, just because it is legal doesn’t make it ethically and morally right for shareholders to make a profit off of incarceration of our fellow citizens,” Jones said. “I guess with my Christian upbringing, there has always been a conflict with that.”
In recent months, state administrators had posed questions about agency funds. Jones’ department sought a $6.4 million supplemental appropriation for the current fiscal year but also reported that it had $22 million in its revolving funds. The administration had said it didn’t know about the revolving funds but the Corrections Department said it had regularly advised the state of what it had in various accounts.
Jones, 57, said he doesn’t plan to retire and will look for another job.