The William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply will close by the end of 2021, the Department of Corrections confirmed in a news release issued Wednesday afternoon.
The minimum-security men’s prison opened in 1989 on the grounds of a former mental health hospital. As of June 7, there were 739 people incarcerated at William S. Key. The facility has a capacity of just under 1,100.
William S. Key’s 140 employees will be offered the option to transfer to another facility, agency spokesman Justin Wolf said. The nearest prison is 80 miles east in Alva.
Wolf said declining demand for minimum security bed space and mounting maintenance issues drove the decision to close William S. Key. The facility’s two housing units were originally constructed in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
A surge in COVID-19 cases due to the highly contagious delta variant and lagging vaccine uptake is hitting Oklahoma just in time for back to school. And schools can’t require masks unless Gov. Stitt declares another state of emergency.
Interim studies, set to take place from August through November, often help guide future legislation.
“Between the increased cost of maintenance and upkeep of that facility and the impact that could potentially have on the safety of our staff and inmates there, the decision was made to close the facility,” Wolf said.
In an interview with The Woodward News, State Rep. Carl Newton, R-Waynoka, called the decision to close the prison “devastating” to Northwest Oklahoma, adding that corrections employees would likely need to move to continue working for the agency.
As reform efforts take shape and the pandemic continues to cause a backlog in criminal cases, Oklahoma’s prison population has dropped 17.3% over the past two years. The state corrections system is currently operating at 85% capacity, down from 105% in 2019.
In July, corrections officials decided to vacate the Cimarron Correctional Facility, a private prison in Cushing that housed 1,400 male prisoners. The U.S. Marshals Service now operates the facility as a prisoner transfer center.
In one Oklahoma prison, 82% of inmates tested positive for COVID-19. One of them was Robert Lavern.
Nearly 900 William S. Key prisoners contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak last September. Two died. Robert Lavern, a former prisoner who spoke to Oklahoma Watch last November, described poor conditions and an inability to social distance inside the facility.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Lavern said he wasn’t surprised by the news.
“They only repaired or fixed the bare minimum of what they had to,” he said. “I can understand why it would take a lot of money to fix.”
Keaton Ross is a Report for America corps member who covers prison conditions and criminal justice issues for Oklahoma Watch. Contact him at (405) 831-9753 or Kross@Oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter at @_KeatonRoss