Okla. Dept. of Correction director submits resignation

Director: "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"

By Barbara Hoberock
Tulsa World

OKLAHOMA CITY — Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones is resigning effective Oct. 1.

Jones made the announcement at a staff meeting Monday. His official last day is expected to be Aug. 16, followed by paid time off until his resignation effective date.

Jones has run afoul of policy-makers who want to put more state inmates in private prisons.

"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," Jones said. "I guess with my Christian upbringing, there has always been a conflict with that."

Also, the agency was given a standstill budget for fiscal year 2014 despite increased numbers of inmates, a large number of inmates backed up in county jails awaiting transport to prison, and a new criminal justice law that puts more requirements on the DOC.

Policy-makers questioned the amounts the agency reported in its revolving funds in its budget request, and the agency denied wrongdoing.

Gov. Mary Fallin recently said she reserved judgment on her confidence in Jones to run the agency.

The Governor's Office said Monday that Fallin did not call for Jones to resign.

"The governor appreciates Director Jones' many years of service to the state of Oklahoma," said Aaron Cooper, a spokesman for Fallin.

When asked directly whether he was forced out of the position, Jones said, "It is just time to turn the page and move on to another chapter in my life."

Jones worked his way up through the agency, starting as a probation and parole officer in 1977 after earning a bachelor's degree that same year in sociology with a minor in communications.

He has held posts ranging from regional director of institutions to deputy director of community sentencing. He served under five DOC directors before being tapped to run the agency in 2005.

His job requires him to be a witness to inmate executions, which he has done about two dozen times.

"It is a very surreal experience," he said.

Jones, 57, said he doesn't plan to retire and will look for another job.

In his long tenure with the Department of Corrections, one of the most frustrating things for him has been trying to get stakeholders to understand that corrections is not just holding people until their time has expired and they are discharged or paroled, Jones said.

"We serve the disenfranchised of the world," Jones said. "We serve people who if not for their addiction or mental health would not be in prison. On the other spectrum, we serve some of the most violent and evil citizens Oklahoma has ever created."

Jones has lobbied for more funds for programs to rehabilitate offenders and to increase staffing levels at state prisons, which are normally at or near capacity.

One of the most difficult things for him to leave behind will be the agency's employees, he said.

"They do yeoman's work, 24/7," Jones said. "That is basically true with the staffing ratios that have gone down, and they do it on a daily basis. Most citizens would be fearful to do it, and they do it with energy, vigor and dedication. It is like a family."

A lot has changed in his more than three decades in corrections, Jones said.

"We certainly have enhanced our professionalism," he said. "We are currently data driven, research and evidence based."

The working environment is more secure, he said.

Jones said he would like to find another job in Oklahoma, where he has family, but that he is willing to consider leaving the state.

Jones is the latest in a list of longtime agency heads to resign or retire, including Marilyn Hughes, former executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission; Gene Christian, former Office of Juvenile Affairs executive director; and Terry Jenks, Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board executive director.

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