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A compilation of news, context and little-known facts related to Oklahoma.

December 2014

Private Prison to Re-Open
(Dec., 31, 2014)

An Oklahoma private prison facility that has been vacant since 2010 is set to reopen after the prison’s corporate owner signed a contract this week to house federal inmates.

The Great Plains Correctional Facility in Hinton, owned by the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Geo Group, was awarded a 10-year, $361 million contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Monday. The contract would allow the facility to house 1,500 to 2,000 low-security federal inmates.

The prison, whose capacity is around 2,000 inmates, closed in 2010 after Arizona ended its contract with Geo Group to house prisoners there. The facility has been unoccupied since, although some Oklahoma lawmakers have pushed for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to place inmates there.

The Hinton facility is one of six private prisons in Oklahoma. The reactivation would mean that the only non-operational private prison facility in the state would be Watonga’s Diamondback Correctional Facility, owned by Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America. Diamondback closed in 2010 after Arizona ended its contract with the facility.

In March 2013, the Federal Bureau of Prisons began soliciting offers for two prison facilities to house federal inmates. Officials at the city of Hinton told Oklahoma Watch in September 2013 that Geo Group had been holding job fairs to staff the facility in anticipation of a new contract, although Geo Group would not confirm that at the time.

Corrections Corp. of America was also holding job fairs to staff the Diamondback facility. No announcement has been made about a new contract to house prisoners there.

A report from Ohio television station WKYC on Tuesday states that federal prisoners housed at the privately owned Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio, were to be moved to the Hinton and Philipsburg facilities after the Federal Bureau of Prisons decided to end its contract with the Youngstown facility’s owner, Corrections Corp. of America.

Chris Burke, spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, said the bureau’s contract with Corrections Corp. for use of the Youngstown facility, which houses 1,419 federal prisoners, ends May 31.

According to federal documents, the 1,500 to 2,000 inmates to be sent to Hinton are low-security, primarily adult male criminal immigrants, most of whom have 90 or fewer months remaining on their sentences. The facility must be able to accept the prisoners by June 1, 2015, and non-federal prisoners are prohibited from being housed in the same fence perimeter as the federal prisoners, the federal solicitation states.

Also awarded was a $431 million contract renewing Geo Group’s management of the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Philipsburg, Penn., which houses federal prisoners, federal records show.

The 10-year contracts will allow Geo Group to house a combined 3,818 federal prisoners at the Oklahoma and Pennsylvania prisons, and will generate about $76 million in annual revenue for the company, according to a statement released by Geo Group.

The Hinton facility is expected to start accepting the federal prisoners in the second quarter of 2015, according to Geo Group.

“We appreciate the confidence placed in our company by the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” said George C. Zoley, Geo Group’s chairman and CEO. “The signing of the new ten-year contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons for the continued management of the Moshannon Valley Correctional Center and the reactivation of the Great Plains Correctional Facility will strengthen our long-standing partnership with the federal government.”

–Clifton Adcock

Wardens: State Prison System Understaffed, Over-Crowded, Badly in Need of Repair
(Dec. 16)

Despite Department of Corrections efforts to release inmates to make room for offenders from the county jails—the “jail backup”—the prison system remains over capacity, documents show.

Quarterly reports from prison wardens show the inmate population peaked above 105 percent capacity this summer, and remains at 104 percent this month.

The prison system was already understaffed, overcrowded and badly in need of repair, the reports show.

“The facility is no longer compliant with toilet and shower ratio for offenders on housing units 4, 5, 6 and (the minimum security unit),” Janet Dowling, warden of James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena, wrote on July 7. “The population office is no longer leaving vacant beds for offenders that are out to court, in the hospital or housed in restrictive housing. … The close living quarters on the housing units are an ongoing area of (offender) complaint.”

Some wardens also report that staff and prisoner morale are being affected as both attempt to adjust to the influx of new prisoners.

“The mood and climate on the yard is still evolving with the new arrival of younger offenders and an increase in those offenders with mental health needs,” Rodney Redman, warden of Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita, wrote on July 1. “We have seen a big increase in the number of Misconduct Reports written as staff continue to hold offenders accountable.”

The minimum-security Vinita facility was about 30 prisoners over capacity at the time of Redman’s report.

Understaffing, an increase in contraband introduction and crumbling facilities were also exacerbating the problems faced by the prisons, the wardens’ reports show.

On Oct. 27, the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite, which houses medium- and minimum-security level prisoners, stood at 121 prisoners over capacity.

Meanwhile, Granite had 30 vacant security positions and 18 vacant support staff positions, according to an Oct. 29 memo from Warden Tracy McCollum. Roof leaks in three units ,which records show had been reported as a major concern months earlier,  had gone unrepaired.

“Unit D continues to have major issues regarding the effects of the roof leakage,” McCollum wrote in her Oct. 29 report. “Units B and C are also continuing to decline as their leaks expand during rainy weather.”

The full quarterly reports from the wardens can be viewed here:

* Fiscal year 2014, Quarter 4, East Institutions 

* Fiscal year 2014, Quarter 4, West Institutions

* Fiscal year 2015, Quarter 1, East Institutions

* Fiscal year 2015, Quarter 1, West Institutions 

–Cliff Adcock

Struggles With Mental Health
(Dec. 5)

Oklahoma is among five states that struggle the most with high rates of mental illness and a lack of access to treatment, according to a national report released Wednesday.

Oklahoma ranks 48th for the number of adults suffering with mental illness and access to care, and 43rd for youth in the same categories, according to a report from Mental Health America, one of the largest mental-health advocacy groups in the country. The low ranking means a state has more residents suffering with mental illness and less access to treatment.

The ranking includes all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Other states that consistently found themselves at the bottom of the rankings are Washington, New Mexico, Mississippi and Arizona.

Oklahoma especially struggles when it comes to adults with mental illness.

About 22 percent, or 609,000 Oklahomans, have a mental illness, the second highest rate in the nation, behind only Utah.

About 10 percent, or 276,000, Oklahomans suffer from an addiction, the ninth-highest rate in the nation.

Oklahoma also has the fifth-highest percentage of residents with serious thoughts of suicide. About 4 percent, or 122,000 Oklahomans, had serious thoughts of suicide.

One positive result was that Oklahoma climbed out of the bottom 10 states when it comes to individual categories looking at youths suffering from mental illness.

Oklahoma ranked 38th for percentage of youths with emotional behavior and developmental issues, 26th for share of youths dependent on drugs, 28th for youths who have suffered at least one depressive episode, and 10th for youths with serious thoughts of suicide.

Overall, though, Oklahoma ranked 43rd in youths suffering from mental illness and the access to treatment.

–Nate Robson

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