Joe Allbaugh

This Week in Oklahoma Politics, KOSU's Michael Cross talks with Republican Political Consultant Neva Hill and ACLU Oklahoma Executive Director Ryan Kiesel about the dire situation at the Department of Corrections according to Director Joe Allbaugh, the state faces a lawsuit by car dealers over a tax increase on the sale of new motor vehicles as well as a suit by Republican candidate for Governor Gary Richardson over other issues in the budget passed last month by lawmakers.

Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

The director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections says the agency is imposing a hiring freeze to help cut costs as a result of a state revenue failure.

Director Joe Allbaugh said Thursday that the hiring freeze is the first of many possible changes in order to cut spending by about $3 million by the June 30 end of the state's fiscal year.

Allbaugh says there are 348 vacant positions that will go unfilled during the freeze. He says the freeze does not include correctional officers, probation and parole officers, medical professionals and food service workers.

Kate Carlton Greer / Oklahoma Public Media Exchange

Oklahoma’s Department of Corrections says one of its biggest challenges is recruiting and retaining employees.

During an interim study Wednesday, Prison Director Joe Allbaugh told lawmakers turnover for the agency is roughly 28 percent. Correctional officers in particular, Allbaugh said, are even harder to retain. Turnover for those positions is approaching 40 percent.

He blamed the high-stress nature of the job combined with low-pay and long hours and said many cadets have a false idea of what being a prison officer entails.  

An Oklahoma inmate died Wednesday night after a disturbance broke out at the Mack Alford Correctional Center in Stringtown.

In a press release describing the incident, Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh called the knife fight “senseless violence” and vowed to look for a motive.

“We have launched a full-scale investigation into the situation,” Allbaugh said. “We will ensure the proper measures are taken to better manage these situations in the future.”

SUE OGROCKI / AP

The Oklahoma House of Representatives reversed itself Wednesday on a bill it defeated 48-44 on Monday. The new vote approves modifications of the requirements to become the head of the state Department of Corrections.

Under the bill’s language, the agency director no longer needs a master’s degree or five years experience in corrections. The changes make the Department of Corrections’ current Interim Director Joe Allbaugh eligible.

Flickr / alamosbasement

Governor Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders agreed to pull about $78.5 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund in order to partially offset budget cuts to common education and corrections for the remainder of this fiscal year.

The Department of Education will receive $51 million and the Department of Corrections will receive $27.5 million.

A longtime Republican political operative who previously headed the Federal Emergency Management Agency now has the daunting task of leading Oklahoma's overcrowded and underfunded prison system, which has come under increasing scrutiny after a series of problematic executions.