Staffing Shortages in Oklahoma Prisons Could Result in Litigation

Officials with the Oklahoma Correctional Professionals Association met with legislators yesterday to warn them of the dangerous staffing levels at DOC facilities.  According to the DOC, Oklahoma prisons are currently staffed at 62% while the inmate population at the facilities are hitting maximum capacity.

Inadequate staffing can substantially impair the safety of both staff and inmates.  Without adequate staffing, there are simply not enough people to supervise the inmate population.  When the inmate population is not supervised, the potential for inmate-on-inmate violence, or inmate-on-staff violence, increases substantially.

The Oklahoma Correctional Professionals Association noted that retaining qualified staff is extremely difficult under circumstances that combine low wages and dangerous conditions.  Attracting qualified applicants becomes more problematic when DOC  must compete with higher paying jobs in the oil industry which predominate in rural areas where Oklahoma prisons are located.

Failing to adequately staff the prisons could eventually lead to constitutional litigation against the state to compel the necessary funding.  Federal courts have assumed supervision over state correctional departments where the state has allowed a dangerous condition to persist, has knowledge of those conditions, and then fails or refuses to adequately respond to the crisis.

By meeting with legislators to warn of them of the staffing shortage and the dangerous conditions that creates, the Oklahoma Correctional Professionals Association appears determined to establish the first two prongs necessary to maintain a civil rights claim.  It remains to be seen whether the Legislature will provide an adequate response to those concerns.