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Troubled private prison in Lawton terminates contract with state

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks to reporters in Barnsdall, Okla. following a damaging tornado on May 6, 2024.
Ben Abrams
The private company that operates a Lawton prison has ended its contract with the state after Gov. Kevin Stitt, pictured, rejected a request for a $3 million increase.

The private company that operates a Lawton prison has ended its contract with the state after Gov. Kevin Stitt rejected a request for a $3 million increase.

In his veto message, Stitt said Senate Bill 1167would create an unfunded mandate to increase per diem rates at the Lawton Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility. The increase was not in the budget agreement, he said.

Stitt’s veto’ message said he could not put taxpayers on the hook for increasing the salaries of private corporations with state contracts.

The agency had housed 2,616 inmates at the prison run by The GEO Group.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said it was in negotiations with the vendor when The GEO Group sent the state a letter of discontinuation.

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections declined to release the letter on Thursday.

“Over the last four years, GEO has received a $6.8 million increase in funding,” an Oklahoma Department of Corrections press release said. “Yet, their operations have not improved — being the most violent prison in Oklahoma — and continues to lack the standard of care expected by ODOC.”

The agency’s dissatisfaction with the facility and GEO’s facility operations has reached a critical point, the statement said.

In May, two inmates were killed and over 30 others were injured during a fight.

The agency said it had several options for a safer location for inmates.

The GEO Group said in a statement Thursday that the company made significant capital investments over the years to provide needed bedspace to reduce prison overcrowding.

Wage inflation, staffing shortages and COVID have negatively impacted recruitment and retention, the company said.

“Unfortunately, the recent veto of funding that was approved by the Oklahoma State Legislature will only exacerbate our significant challenges,” the company said.

The spokesperson said the company has proposed a three-month transition agreement starting July 1 to allow for the orderly relocation of inmates if new funding and contract terms can’t be agreed upon.

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. Contact Editor Janelle Stecklein for questions: [email protected].

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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