Humpday Hall of Shame: A Sad Day for Oklahoma

"You know, just because it is legal doesn't make it ethically and morally right for shareholders to make a profit off of incarceration of our fellow citizens.  I guess with my Christian upbringing, there has always been a conflict with that."

With those words, Justin Jones, director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, announced his resignation earlier this week.  Jones, who has held the position since 2005, has been an advocate for policies like Oklahoma’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which aims to “ease the fiscal and social strains caused by Oklahoma’s prison overcrowding” by reducing the state’s reliance on incarceration. 

Asserting his call to serve the “disenfranchised of the world” Jones has criticized legislators’ view of prisons as a place to punish rather than to rehabilitate. Jones has often clashed with lawmakers, particularly Governor Mary Fallin, who recently “reserved judgment” on his leadership and has fought to keep the agency’s budget low, choking plans to reduce recidivism and implement alternatives to incarceration.  As it stands, Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, despite decreasing incidents of non-violent crime.

Our Humpday Hall of Shame mantle falls not on Jones, but on Oklahoma lawmakers.  Jones has most recently been at odds with the legislature over plans to funnel more of the state’s incarcerated population into private prisons.  Oklahoma’s reliance on private prison companies has increased drastically over the last decade; of the state’s 18,000 imprisoned people, about a third are held in contract facilities.  Unsurprisingly, these facilities have caused no shortage of trouble for the DOC, dating back to a series of mistaken releases at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center, which was run by Corrections Corporation of America until the state stepped in in 2005.  California and Idaho, who previously contracted out CCA-run beds in Oklahoma, brought their people home after riots and murder shook the facilities.

Oklahoma will lose a dedicated public servant on October 1, Jones’s official last day.  It remains to be seen whether the incoming DOC director will continue Jones’s good work or whether the state will continue to place profit over people.