Cimarron Correctional Facility, a private prison located about three miles southwest of Cushing will be closing in September and the community is reeling from the announcement.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections issued a statement Thursday saying it would be vacating the prison to compensate for a $24.4 million budget decrease in fiscal year 2021.
People in Cushing are worried about a replay of what happened to Watonga when Diamondback Correctional Facility, another CoreCivic property, closed in 2010.
The situations are strikingly similar; Both are small towns with the prisons that serve as major employers and whose impacts are felt throughout the local economy.
Diamondback employed about 300 people and produced a reported $11 million in payroll in 2010.
Cimarron is one of the top 5 employers in Cushing, with around 290 employees, Cushing City Manager Terry Brannon said.
Brannon said if the prison closes, it will ripple through the economy of not only Cushing, but across Payne County and the surrounding counties. Many employees live in the Cushing area, but a fair number commute from other towns.
Direct employees of the prison won’t be the only ones affected. Brannon said it will hurt everyone from the stores and restaurants that employees of the prison patronize, to the dry cleaner who cleans all their uniforms.
The City of Cushing stands to lose about $1 million per year in utility sales to the prison, which will affect how much the city has to reinvest in services for residents, Brannon said.
The Brannon and Bruce Johnson, executive director of the Cushing Economic Development Foundation, issued a joint statement Thursday after learning of ODOC’s surprise decision to end its contract with CoreCivic, the Nashville-based owner of Cimarron Correctional Facility.
In the end, it comes down to money.
After suffering a budget shortfall, the state adopted a budget for the new fiscal year that included cuts of approximately 4% for many agencies.
In 2017, ODOC paid CoreCivic $54 million, according to The Frontier.
ODOC said it offered to decrease the number of beds it contracts for by 500 in each of three private facilities, which the agency believed would allow all of them to remain open.
“Instead, CoreCivic chose to close its 1,650 bed prison,” the agency said on Thursday. “ODOC continues to house inmates at CoreCivic’s Holdenville prison, Davis Correctional facility.”
CoreCivic also issued a statement Thursday, saying it would be closing the Cushing facility to help ODOC meet its budget needs. Inmates will begin transferring to other prisons immediately, with a projected completion date of Sept. 15.
“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,” the company said.
CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, owns four prisons in Oklahoma. It operates facilities in Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing and Davis Correctional Facility in Holdenville and leases North Fork Correctional Facility in Sayre to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which staffs and operates it.
It also owns Diamondback Correctional Facility in Watonga, which has been closed since 2010. The company has tried to lease that facility to ODOC as well in the past, but a deal has never been finalized.
CoreCivic is one of the largest private prison corporations in the U.S. In 2018 it operated a reported 77 correctional facilities, detention centers and residential reentry facilities with a total of 78,000 beds across 19 states, according the American Friends Service Committee.
After decades of growth, revenues are dropping for players in the private prison industry as states eye how much they’re spending on corrections and move to adopt sentencing reform.
When Diamondback closed after the state of Arizona ended its contract with the facility, CoreCivic said it hoped to make a deal to hold federal prisoners. The company has already said it plans to continue to offer Cimarron as a potential solution to meet the needs of other government partners, fueling speculation that it holds out the same hope for its Cushing facility.
Former ODOC Director Joe Allbaugh told the News Press he wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case because the federal government pays 2-3 times as much as the state.
“These are publicly traded companies and they answer to their shareholders,” Allbaugh said.
Brannon and Johnson said the City of Cushing the Cushing Economic Development Foundation are committed to working with CoreCivic to help with workforce transition and to provide assistance with any other partnerships, programs or resources might maintain the current employment opportunities at Cimarron Correctional Facility.