State corrections officials intend to keep a close eye on the privately-run North Fork Correctional Facility in Oklahoma, where outsourced inmates from Colorado are currently serving time.Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) Executive Director Ari Zavaras and Director of Prisons Gary Golder joined state Reps. Buffie McFadyen (D-Pueblo West) and Steve King (R-Grand Junction) in a tour of the Oklahoma facility Tuesday, Oct. 30.
During December of last year, before Christmas, the DOC started to transfer inmates to the out-of-state prison, after the department announced that local prisons were filled to capacity. Now, approximately 480 state inmates are at the Oklahoma facility, segregated from the local prisoners to avoid conflict.
McFadyen, who returned to Colorado on Tuesday, represents Fremont County, the site of 13 different prisons. The lawmaker says she was shown the four “pods” where the inmates are incarcerated, and that the prevailing desire among the prisoners was to return to Colorado.
“It’s a big hardship on the families to get over to Oklahoma to visit their loved ones,” McFadyen says. “I would say the general population probably doesn’t have much empathy for such a situation simply because the idea of ‘they committed a crime they got to do their time.'”
But McFadyen believes that being close to home is an important detail in trying to make sure released inmates don’t come back to the corrections system. She also noted that Colorado prisons offer recreational and rehabilitation programs that are lacking in Oklahoma.
While visiting, McFadyen raised concerns over allegations of slow mail, shoddy phone service and problems with visiting family members. The lawmaker says that Zavaras will have the department’s private-prison monitoring unit look into the claims.
“The DOC was receptive to hearing what we were hearing,” says McFadyen.