- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Oklahoma communities that rely on inmate labor for a variety of services are wondering what they’ll do now that the state intends to close 15 inmate work centers statewide.

The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1qnx0D7 ) reports that the Oklahoma Department of Corrections plans to close the work centers in order to mitigate some of the cost of the $37.5 million contract.

Officials and lawmakers around these work centers packed this month’s Board of Corrections meeting to express their frustrations over the closures.

“We’ve had pretty much every community that has a work center within 30 or 40 miles express concern because they have taken advantage, if you will, of the manpower,” said Mike Brown, mayor of Weatherford and president of the Oklahoma Municipal League.

Brown said they’re particularly concerned about how they’ll be able to pay for the workers they’ll lose. Some officials have said they’ll have to re-evaluate jobs and perhaps lay people off.

Kirk Fisher, Beaver city councilman, said that a restoration of Beaver Dune State Park wouldn’t have been possible without inmate labor.

“The main reason we could afford to do that is because of the inmate labor,” Fisher said.

He said that inmates managed by a city employee have painted buildings, mowed grass, mended fences and maintained facilities.

The state is currently dealing with a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, and the Corrections Department has been hit especially hard. The centers’ closure will save almost $18 million a year with the closure of the centers as the roughly 1,200 inmates at work centers will go to the Oklahoma State Reformatory in Granite.

Department officials say inmates at prisons with work release programs will still be able to help rural communities if they’re given travel from Granite to those communities and back in a single day.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com


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