DOC budget grew 147 percent during decade

Sunday, March 30th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The state Department of Corrections budget grew by 147 percent from 1990 to 2001, more than any other state agency, a new report shows.

The report by the Community Action Project of Tulsa examined state spending for all Oklahoma government operations during that time frame.

It found that total state appropriated budgets grew from $2.868 billion in 1990 to $5.408 billion in 2001, a growth of 88 percent.

Education got the largest dollar increase during that time, but corrections surpassed it in percentage increase. The education budget grew by 124.7 percent.

The growth in the DOC's budget "was much more a reflection of the changing sentencing and parole patterns than it was of crime rates, which actually dropped 17 percent in Oklahoma between 1991 and 2001," the report stated.

Oklahoma's prison population grew from an average daily census of 15,260 in fiscal year 1996 to 22,299 in 2001.

The report said policies aimed at keeping inmates in higher-security settings contributed to the department's budget growth. Fewer inmates were released into halfway houses and community-based centers and were held instead in higher cost prisons.

Pay increases for corrections officers affected the budget, as did the fact the department had to meet medical care requirements in the settlement of a federal lawsuit filed in the early 1970s by former inmate Bobby Battle.

Despite the budget growth, the agency is still hurting financially. Funding reductions resulting from the state's budget shortfall have left the DOC with a $16.9 million budget deficit.

The agency has more than 500 vacant corrections officer positions and nearly 60 probation and parole officer vacancies, said state Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Corrections.

She and Sen. Dick Wilkerson, D-Atwood, believe Oklahoma needs more treatment for nonviolent inmates with drug and alcohol problems.

The Community Action Project of Tulsa is an anti-poverty agency whose mission is to help people achieve self-sufficiency. David Blatt, the organization’s director of public policy, prepared the report.