The Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced that week it was ending its contract with the Cimarron Correctional Facility, a private prison located in Cushing.
We have long opposed private prison contracts, believing a for-profit model is not appropriate for the extraordinary governmental authority of holding prisoners. It’s an expensive mechanism that aids mass incarceration.
But there are serious concerns in how closures may overcrowd and overstress state prisons.
Since 1997, the Nashville-based, multibillion-dollar private company CoreCivic has owned and operated the Cimarron facility, which has a history of trouble and violence.
DOC officials cite the loss of $24.4 million in its budget as the underlying reason.
To make up the difference, the state pitched to its private vendors a reduction of 500 inmates in each facility. Rather than take the deal, CoreCivic decided to close its 1,650-bed, medium security center.
It’s another reminder that the goal of turning a profit off the number of incarcerated inmates makes for bad policy and gives too much power to unelected, unaccountable people.
The immediate danger is how much these transfers will put other prisons over capacity, possibly violating federal standards and putting prisoners and staff at risk of a lot of things, including spread of the COVID-19 virus.
So far, the DOC has avoided the crushing number of cases other states and federal prisons have faced. The wrong plan could change that.
Crisis is the wrong way to exit the private prison game. The right way is through smart-on-crime policies designed to reduce prison numbers in a safe, orderly fashion. That way, we can sort out those who can be redeemed into taxpaying members of society from the genuinely dangerous prisoners.
That effort will pay off when prisons are shuttered due to not having enough prisoners rather than not having enough money.