Okla. prison closure leads to job losses, feared economic devastation

Nearly 140 employees work at the minimum-security prison. About 1,000 inmates will be moved to other facilities


By Jordan Green
The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

FORT SUPPLY, Okla. — A northwest Oklahoma lawmaker says a decision to close a state-owned minimum-security prison will be "devastating" to the rural area after officials with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections said Wednesday they will close the William S. Key Correctional Center by the end of the year.

"This is just another kick in the teeth to northwest Oklahoma," said Sen. Casey Murdock, R- Felt.

Nearly 140 employees work at the prison. Current inmates — about 1,000 — will be moved to other facilities.

"The decision to close a facility is always a difficult one," Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow said in a news release. "However, in order to assure the safety of our staff and inmates and act as proper stewards of the taxpayer funds we are entrusted with, this decision had to be made."

Officials cited high maintenance costs as a reason to close the decades-old prison.

Sen. Roger Thompson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he met with Crow Tuesday about the costs of needed repairs at the facility, which could be about $40 million.

But Thompson said Crow made no mention of closing the prison during their meeting, and that he only learned of the prison's closure when he received a news release Wednesday.

"I am not happy," Thompson said. " The Legislature has to appropriate money to DOC for them to operate, and to exclude the Legislature from this type of an announcement, I think, is just ill-advised on the part of DOC.

"They need to put this on hold. They need to get back with the legislators and talk with them about the financial implications for the entire system."

Murdock and Rep. Carl Newton, R- Cherokee, said they're concerned the prison closure will have significant economic effects on the region. Fort Supply, 155 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, has a population of about 350, according to Census Bureau data.

The prison contracts with the Harper County Community Hospital in Buffalo to provide medical services for inmates, a vital source of funding for the rural healthcare facility, Murdock said.

"I'm worried about the hospital. It's going to hurt that hospital," Murdock said. "[The prison] gets them through the hard times because it's constant patients coming in.

"The ripple effect ... is going to be dramatic," Murdock said.

The decision to close the prison will affect not only Fort Supply residents, but also workers who commute from other towns in the region, Newton said.

"Closing a prison in rural area like Fort Supply doesn't just affect a few people," Newton said. "You don't just turn around and go down the street and get another job."

(c)2021 The Oklahoman

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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