State cuts contract with CoreCivic by $27.5 million
By J. D. Meisner
CoreCivic, the firm that owns and operates the Cimarron Correctional Center in Cushing, announced on Thursday, it has reached a decision to close the prison.
During a board meeting of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections on Wednesday, July 15, ODOC officials voted to cut the department’s contract with CoreCivic by at least $27.5 million, according to outside sources.
The shutdown will impact some 294 people who work at the prison.
“In order to help the Oklahoma Department of Corrections meet their budget needs, we will be closing the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing, Oklahoma,” said CoreCivic’s Manager of Public Affairs Ryan Gustin on Thursday. “CoreCivic will work closely with the department to ensure a safe and seamless transfer of inmates out of Cimarron Correctional Center. At the same time, we are assisting our employees impacted by the closure, and will be working to provide them opportunities for transfer to other CoreCivic facilities and access to community employment resources.”
Gustin would not say how many inmates were housed at the facility, nor would he offer a date as to when the facility would officially close, referring those questions to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
Oklahoma Senator Tom Dugger and State Representative John Talley said they were caught off guard by the decision to shut down the facility.
Senator Dugger, who serves District 21, said he found out Thursday, when Cushing Economic Development Director Bruce Johnson called him after CoreCivic made the choice to cease operations in Cushing.
The timing was the same for Talley, who represents District 31.
We got a call yesterday from Bruce Johnson,” said Talley. “He asked me what I knew. I knew nothing.”
Talley said he immediately called ODOC Chief of Staff Justin Farris. “I told him that if he knew about this and didn’t call me, that I was not happy.”
Dugger, who serves on the Senate Appropriations committee, said he told Johnson they needed to go to Oklahoma City and meet with Farris immediately.
“Johnson said that we didn’t have an appointment,” said Dugger. “I told him to give me 30 minutes.”
About an hour later, Dugger and Johnson were sitting down with ODOC officials.
Dugger said the reason he was given about not being informed of the closure was that the contract was with a private company, and that the state was not proposing a shut down of any facilities.
“I did get them to promise to keep me in the loop from now on,” he said.
This, according to Dugger, is when they learned that it was not the state’s intention to shut down the Cushing facility.
ODOC Communications Director Justin Wolf said Thursday, that during negotiations with CoreCivic, an offer was made that the state believed would have prevented CoreCivic from shutting down the facility entirely.
“In an effort to compensate for a $24.4 million budget decrease for Fiscal Year 2021, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections will vacate the privately operated Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing,” said Wolf. “During negotiations with our private vendors, ODOC offered to decrease the number of beds in each of three private facilities by 500.”
According to Wolf, ODOC felt this would have allowed all private facilities to remain operational.
“Instead, CoreCivic chose to close its 1,650 bed prison,” he said. “ODOC continues to house inmates at CoreCivic’s Holdenville prison, Davis Correctional Facility.”
CoreCivic representatives had not responded to inquiries as to why they chose to close the Cushing Facility instead of keeping it open in a limited capacity.
According to Wolf, ODOC staff will begin transferring inmates from the Cimarron Correctional Facility to open beds in other prisons.
In a prepared statement released Thursday, Gustin wrote, “We are proud of our longstanding track record of delivering high-quality, safe, cost-saving secure corrections and meaningful reentry programs in partnership with ODOC at Cimarron since 1997. We are also appreciative of the strong relationship we've had with the Cushing community.”
In a joint statement released Thursday, The City of Cushing and the Cushing Economic Development Foundation said, “CoreCivic has been an ubiquitous corporate citizen in Cushing since its opening in 1997. The purchase of the property by CCF from the City of Cushing helped the citizens of Cushing to construct a modern aquatic center that has drawn thousands of visitors and improved our quality of life. CCF has, since its opening up to present day, been one of the largest employers in the region, and one of Cushing Municipal Authority’s biggest and most trusted utility customers.”
According to Johnson, the Cimarron Correctional Facility generates nearly $1million in utility revenue for the Cushing Municipal Authority.
The city’s joint statement also states, “The City of Cushing and the Cushing Economic Development Foundation continue to see the potential in the significant capital investment CoreCivic has made in the community and will work with all parties to make sure that the Cimarron Correctional Facility is utilized to its maximum potential. Many options remain available for the facility and it is the goal of the City of Cushing and Cushing Economic Development Foundation that employment numbers remain as high as possible. Resources will continue to be made available via current economic development contracts and relationships with local, regional and national partners to make Cushing everyone’s first thought for investment."
The statement also listed activities the City of Cushing and Cushing Economic Development have undertaken in response to the news:
- Offered CoreCivic use of community facilities as meeting spaces for any potential workforce transition programs or processes.
- Kept local and state elected officials informed of ongoing developments and communications.
- Researched additional partnerships, programs and resources to maintain current employment at the Cimarron Correctional Facility.
- Continue with the implementation of the CEDF’s Program of Work which is continually reviewed by the CEDF Board on a monthly basis and by the Cushing Industrial Authority in quarterly meetings.
- Maintain excellent working relationships with the State of Oklahoma, CoreCivic, and all economic development partners.”
As to the future of the CoreCivic Facility in Cushing, Gustin said, “We will continue to offer Cimarron Correctional Facility as a potential solution to meet the needs of other government partners.”
“I can’t see them just closing,” said Talley. “That’s millions of dollars in real estate.”
Dugger said that Farris promised to keep him apprised of any options to get inmates into the facility.
“Justin (Farris) said he is in contact with departments of correction across the country,” said Dugger.