Sam McCoy of Detention Solutions proposed to the Altus City Council the building of a 500-bed, medium-security prison through a two-year construction process, resulting in the creation of 200 new permanent jobs.
In special session Friday, the council unanimously voted to establish a new public trust, the Altus Correctional Facilities Authority, to explore the possibility of bringing a city-private correctional institution to the Altus area. Darill Leverett, Tom Yates, Winston Higgs, Mike Duffy and Devin Graves were named as trustees.
Former state Rep. David Braddock, consultant for the Altus/Southwest Area Economic Development Corporation, introduced McCoy; McCoy’s partner, Jeff Andrews, jail designer and contractor; and Bobby Jack, financial representative.
“We’re not asking you to approve a correctional facility today; before this becomes a reality, there will be a series of public hearings,” McCoy said. “We create a trust because we cannot negotiate with the city. We will work with the trust to make a business plan that would include architectural renderings, engineering, site acquisitions, financing and a feasibility study. We hope to build you a facility and contract with you to operate it for you. We will be very good neighbors and active members of the community.
“We’re not asking the city for a dime; if we need to make capital improvements to your sewer system or utility system, the program will finance it. At the end of a 20-year amortization cycle, the city would own the facility, which would become a large revenue stream; the profit potential boggles the mind.”
The project needs 100 acres and McCoy fully intends to expand to 1,000 beds. His only concern lies in the availability of the number of employees needed for the project. He plans to recruit and train correctional officers, personnel supervisors and mid-level managers in conjunction with Southwest Technology Center and Western Oklahoma State College.
Answering Councilman Don Johnson’s question as to why the city would own the facility in 20 years, McCoy said the financier wanted to work through a partnership with the city to qualify for selling tax-exempt bonds. He said the trust would receive substantial revenue throughout the 20 years and could gift the funds to the city.
Altus Mayor T.L. Gramling said, “In my 12 years as mayor, I don’t know of anyone coming to the town, wanting to build any kind of facility free of charge and not asking the city for money. Almost everybody that comes through my doors or the city administrator’s office has a need for something. This is different and we look forward to working with them.”
McCoy listed other benefits for the city: fees, utility payments, land usage; permanent jobs (not manufacturing jobs that would move to Mexico). Jobs available would include correctional officers, correctional supervisors, managers, a physician, nurses, a dentist, a chaplain, education program head, bookkeepers, deputy wardens and a warden. The pay scale would begin at $25,000 to $27,000 with full benefits, including retirement.
Detention Solutions would negotiate inmate contracts with the state of Oklahoma (currently with the nation’s highest incarceration rate) and other states. McCoy considered Oklahoma not competitive with other states, paying $35 per day, per prisoner less than California, which has a 30,000-bed deficit. Due to the nationwide demand for more prisons, he said Oklahoma’s four private correctional facilities are all adding 600 to 700 beds.
Because of technological advances that provide greater security, current prison architecture utilizes multiple fences rather than walls. “Our facilities have a shelf life of infinity; once they open, they never close,” McCoy said. “Granite State Reformatory is nearly 100 years old and it is out of the question to pour more money into it to make it technologically current.”
Inmates would not be seen in the community outside the prison, and after serving their terms would be returned to the Department of Corrections for release in their home communities. The facility would meet state requirements for inmate training programs and the full range of rehabilitative efforts and educational opportunities (not college). Inmates would not do work that would compete with civilian enterprises.
After working as a state correctional officer, McCoy became a warden. He worked two years for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, then returned to Tulsa and managed a county jail for eight years; for the last five years, he has audited prisons and jails across the nation. He writes training programs for correctional officers and supervisors that are used internationally, consults on jail construction in Oklahoma and has taught corrections and criminal justice at three universities for 15 years. He is completing work on a Ph.D.
“The EDC tries to enhance local businesses and tries to find businesses to locate in Southwest Oklahoma,” Braddock said. “I found these folks and encouraged them to come and talk to us and see if it might work for them. We don’t know what will happen; there’s a lot of work to be done.”