New Warden of Dick Conner Correctional Center speaks to Pawhuska Kiwanis Club

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By: Roseanne McKee

Janet Dowling, the new warden at Dick Conner Correctional Center (DCCC), was the guest speaker at the Pawhuska Kiwanis Club’s regular meeting on July 8 at Title VI on the Osage Campus.

Dowling is one of just four female wardens in Oklahoma. She has worked for the Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections for 20 years, and was appointed to her current position as Warden at DCCC in Feb. 2014 by the facility’s Board.

She began her career at the Charles E. “Bill” Johnson Correctional Center in Alva, Okla., and went on to work at the James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena, Okla. as Warden before moving to eastern Oklahoma.

Dowling described the DCCC facility, located in Hominy.

“The original design capacity of the facility was 400 offenders and that capacity was reached in the spring of 1980. At that time the facility was surrounded by double chain-link fences and it cost 12.8 million dollars to construct,” Dowling said.

In 1982, shortly after a disturbance, an additional housing unit was added, she said. On June 1992 a minimum security unit was opened.

Dick Conner Correctional Center currently has seven medium security housing units and one minimum security unit, which are all behind the secure fencing.

“Six of the housing units are what you would expect to see at a medium security facility – two-man cells with bunks,” Dowling said. “The seventh unit, which currently houses sixty offenders, was intended to be temporary housing. A couple of years ago the facility was in the process of retro-fitting all of the locking mechanisms in the housing units so we needed temporary housing to move offenders out while we were fixing those cells. So we converted a classroom in our education building and added a few showers, toilets and sinks and housed sixty offenders there while we were processing that.

“Like every other temporary housing situation in the agency, that temporary housing has become permanent housing. So those men are housed in what was basically a classroom building. There are no cells in it. There are just double cots stacked together with about 3.5 to 4 ft. little walkways separating each cot, so it’s quite a congested area. It’s called open bay or open dorm housing.”

Regarding the open bay housing, Dowling said, “Obviously, not ideal in a medium security facility … you can’t separate them into cells into smaller more manageable groups, so it can be a bit of an issue — not ideal, but that’s the reality of the situation.”

On Nov. 2013, World Mission Builders completed the construction of two chapels at DCCC.

“We’re the only facility where they built two chapels at a time. It was a huge undertaking. Volunteers lived in a tent city outside the facility for a while,” Dowling explained. “It is surprising how many volunteers we have come in to assist with programs and activities.”

Currently, DCCC is operating above its rated capacity, which is the term used to describe what the facility was built to house,” Dowling said.

“Our facility is rated to house 1,196 offenders. That’s 236 minimum security offenders and 960 medium security offenders.

“In that medium security count are infirmary beds. We have nine [beds]. We have a 24-hour, mini-hospital at the institution. We have 42 segregated housing unit beds…those are the people who are either a risk to themselves or others or are at risk from other people and have to be segregated into another area.

Describing those in the segregated housing unit Dowling said: “those are people who are going to be leaving the institution to go to another institution. They’re not compatible with what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Describing the crimes for which inmates are serving, Dowling said, “our main crimes are murder, assault, robbery, rape and distribution of CDS” (distribution of a controlled, dangerous substance).

“Basically, we’ll take anybody, we just can’t have someone on death row,” she explained.

Dowling said, “On July 1 of this year, we had 1,299 offenders. We typically average around 1,300 inmates. Also, we have 17 offenders who are on ‘out-count.’”

These offenders are at another institution, such as a county jail awaiting charges or in an area hospital, but DCCC is still responsible for them.

Some offenders, who are not citizens of the U.S., may be returned to their originating country for probation.

“It was a way of reducing costs, getting them out of the state, making their originating country pay for that care,” Dowling said, but “there’s no getting out of their Oklahoma time.” If they return to Oklahoma, they are required to finish their sentence here.

“As a state, we have roughly 27,800 offenders incarcerated in institutions at this time. On top of that, we have about 26,357 doing some type of community supervision sentencing, so that is 54,000 of our citizens that we have on some form of supervision-control custody. As an agency we are at 112 percent of our rated capacity. We’re full,” Dowling said.

At DCCC, Dowling said, “from our internal information, we anticipate we will receive about 1,200 new offenders this year. That takes into consideration people coming in and people going out, but we’re going to grow by about 1,200 people. Obviously the math leads you to your own conclusions, we’re going to have to make some difficult decisions, as citizens on what we’re going to do about that.”

The DCCC payroll was 8.8 million dollars for fiscal year 2015. “This includes payroll, insurance and the entire benefits package,” she said.

Dowling explained that at DCCC there are 44 staff members, whose salaries are paid by the facility support division, such as medical, education staff and canine officers. A total of 134 employees are paid from the 8.8 million dollar payroll. That is 58 support staff and 76 security officers to oversee 1,300 offenders, which is less than fully staffed.

“Currently we have openings for: deputy warden, electrician, plumber, licensed nurse, food service specialist, two secretaries, a receptionist, material management specialist and I can hire 57 additional correction officers if they’d walk in the door. Getting them to walk in the door is the problem.”

Besides payroll, the DCCC spent 1.7 million operating budget dollars to run the facility, she said.

“About half of that is used up for utilities and food. The third largest expense is facility maintenance – just keeping the place up and running.”

Based on June information, it costs 89 cents per meal. Regarding the menu, Dowling said, “it meets the calorie requirement and it is as efficiently spent as we can possibly do it. For example, it takes 60 gallons of green beans if we are going to serve green beans at one meal.”

“Because of our staffing situation we’re on a 12-hour shift; except our 12-hour shift is five days a week, so everyone works a minimum of 60 hours a week sometimes more.

“If we had more corrections officers, we could reduce the overtime, but it’s an issue a lot of places are facing. Staffing is an issue for every business,” Dowling said.

Applicants must have a clear criminal background, be able to pass the drug screening test and have a GED or high school diploma.

“Starting salary for corrections officers is $2,214. After six months they get a raise which brings them up to about $2,300 and then after 18 mos. $2,480.”

Dowling expressed her appreciation for the DCCC staff: “One of the things that makes me so passionate about what I do is the quality of the staff that we have. These people are working difficult hours in sometimes unpleasant conditions with people who are not always crazy about you being around. They work very hard and are dedicated to what they do and are proud of their service to the state of Oklahoma. It’s tremendous to see these men and women and what they do every day.”

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About Roseanne McKee

Journalist who enjoys reporting the community events/news of Pawhuska, Okla. Pawhuska has a rich culture as the home of the Osage Nation. Cattle ranching, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and the oil industry are all located near Pawhuska. The people are warm, generous and unpretentious. I love Pawhuska!
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