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Oklahoma Department of Corrections halts funding request for prison rodeo

The Oklahoma State Penitentiary
Quinton Chandler
StateImpact Oklahoma
The Oklahoma State Penitentiary

Efforts to reestablish a prison rodeo appear to be stalled.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Steven Harpe on Tuesday told a legislative panel his agency was no longer pursuing an $8.3 million appropriation this session to restart the prison rodeo at Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Instead, the agency wants the Legislature to authorize an interim study on the issue so certain questions can be answered, Harpe said.

The last rodeo was held in 2009, according to the agency.

In 2010, state budget cuts, low attendance and crumbling facilities contributed to the rodeo closing.

At least two measures moving through the legislative process supported recreating the rodeo.

Critics, however, expressed concerns about the safety of participants, the welfare of the animals and other pressing issues facing the agency, such as staffing and infrastructure needs.

Harpe said although he is confident the rodeo would generate revenue, the agency could not restart it without additional dollars.

“At this point, we are looking at pulling back and going to the interim session during the summer so that we can bring in people like the PBR (Professional Bull Riders), IFR (International Finals Rodeo), other concert promoters that want to use the facilities so we can show the Legislature the fully thought through plan on how we would generate the revenue,” Harpe said.

He said the issue could be brought back next session.

“We are fully committed to getting this done,” Harpe said.

Sen. Blake Stephens, R-Tahlequah, said he supported reestablishing the rodeo and was excited about the interim study.

“It’s going to be great for the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

Harpe said the rodeo will not just benefit McAlester, but will generate revenue for the state.

“Inmates want this,” Harpe said. “They want the ability to do this.”

Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, said he hoped the interim study would include all the costs associated with operating it.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

Barbara Hoberock is a senior reporter with Oklahoma Voice. She began her career in journalism in 1989 after graduating from Oklahoma State University. She began with the Claremore Daily Progress and then started working in 1990 for the Tulsa World. She has covered the statehouse since 1994 and served as Tulsa World Capitol Bureau chief. She covers statewide elected officials, the legislature, agencies, state issues, appellate courts and elections.
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