The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is considering acquiring a former state-run institution for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Robert Patton, director for the Department of Corrections, recently toured the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center (SORC) in Pauls Valley, said department spokeswoman Terri Watkins. Watkins said the department is considering whether to acquire the property from its current owner – the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Patton is scheduled to discuss the issue at the Oklahoma Board of Corrections meeting on Thursday.
Watkins said Monday there are yet no concrete plans for how the Department of Corrections would use the facility, nor certainty about whether the department would move forward to obtain the property.
“We’ve been down looking at it to determine if it’s a facility we might be able to use,” Watkins said. “It’s under discussion. He (Patton) is just going to tell the board about the tour and what kind of stuff was available and about the location.”
Prior to its closure, SORC was a residential facility for people with “profound mental retardation as well as other disabling conditions,” according to the Department of Human Services. The facility, which opened in 1907, once had more than 1,000 residents.
SORC and the Northern Oklahoma Resource Center in Enid (NORCE) were the only two remaining state-run institutions for people with developmental disabilities when the now-defunct Human Services Commission voted in 2012 to close the two facilities.
Most of the residents living in NORCE and SORC were transferred into community homes – usually single-family residences served by private provider agencies through DHS and federal funding – throughout the state. The last resident was moved out of SORC in July, while the last resident of NORCE was moved out in November last year.
The closure of the two facilities raised the ire of many family members with loved ones in the facility, as well as some legislators. Proponents of the move said the individuals would be better served and cared-for by transitioning them into community settings.
A lawsuit filed in January by family members states that 18 people who were moved from SORC later died unexpectedly.
Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections has seen its prisoner population swell, despite efforts to reduce their numbers. Last year, many of the state’s prisons were at more than 110 percent capacity. The department began installing beds in prison common rooms and gymnasiums to address the issue.
Department officials expect the prison population to increase by 1,200 inmates over the next year.
In September, the Oklahoma Board of Corrections voted to amend its agreements with private prison companies to contract for an additional 222 private prison beds.