William S. Key Correctional Center will officially shut down in approximately 60 to 120 days leaving 139 employees out of a job.
After being told repeatedly throughout this past legislative session the facility would not be shut down, District 58 Rep. Carl Newton said he heard rumors and called for a meeting with the Department of Corrections (DOC) on Tuesday. Chief of Operations Justin Farris informed him of the development.
“He was on the way out to the warden at that time,” Newton said. “That's when I found out officially.”
In Jan. 2020, Newton and District 27 State Sen. Casey Murdock met with over 100 Fort Supply area residents and correctional employees, spurring a letter writing campaign to let the state know how important the facility is to Northwest Oklahoma.
“It seemed to stave them off and I was hoping that would last a little longer than this,” Newton said. “It’s funny during session we kept asking... And now this happens.”
William S. Key is the largest minimum security prison in the state covering approximately 3,200 acres, including agricultural services and the Fort Supply Historical Site. The prison opened in 1989.
While the town of Fort Supply is in District 61 Rep. Kenton Patzkowsky’s district, the correctional center itself is in Newton’s.
“It's devastating to Northwest Oklahoma,” Newton said. “They are going to give all current officers and employees an option to transfer to someplace else in the Department of Corrections which doesn’t make much of a difference if you live in Northwest Oklahoma.”
According to Newton, inmates are taken to Harper County Community Hospital in Buffalo when they are in need of medical care.
“That helps keep them going. It’s gonna be a major impact on them,” Newton said. “We voiced that concern when we found out, believe me.”
Newton is also concerned about the impact the center’s closing will have on the Fort Supply school.
“It’s going to be devastating to the school system,” Newton said. “People from Woodward will take their kids to Fort Supply and put them in school out there because they drop them off on the way to work and pick them up when they go back home.”
DOC representatives plan to come out to Fort Supply and visit with the community, Newton said.
“The DOC is planning on trying to take care of their employees,” Newton said. “This is terrible. I'm very sad, frustrated that I've been looking for ideas.
“Especially Harper County they've been hit hard/ We’re trying to see about pushing to get some federal money sent out there.”
Newton said he doesn’t know who made the final decision.
“Part of the blame falls upon the voters themselves,” Newton said. “When we passed 780, the drug reform on marijuana laws... We released a bunch of people that were in prison.”
Charles E. "Bill" Johnson Correctional Center in Alva dropped to around 65 percent capacity. William S. Key dropped down to around 75 percent capacity, according to Newton.
“I pointed out that we still have two private prisons here in the state that we're paying to keep people at,” Newton added. “Yet we're closing our own facilities that have loyal employees and stay there.”
According to Newton, he was informed there are 2,700 empty beds across the state and the private prisons are medium and high security prisons. The Fort Supply and Alva centers are both minimum-security facilities.
“I'm sick about this I really am,” Newton said. “We don't need this in Northwest Oklahoma. Northwest Oklahoma needs all the people we can get out here.”
UPDATED: Press Release
Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) announces plans to close the William S. Key Correctional Center (WKCC), a minimum-security prison located in Ft. Supply. The facility will close by year’s end.
“The decision to close a facility is always a difficult one,” said Director Scott Crow. “However, in order to assure the safety of our staff and inmates and act as proper stewards of the taxpayer funds we are entrusted with, this decision had to be made.”
The closure comes at the end of a long review process. Repair and operation costs of the more than 50 year-old facility have continued to increase over the years. The inmate housing units, constructed in 1947 and 1951, were not originally built to prison specifications. ODOC determined that maintaining the infrastructure is untenable, to the degree necessary for safety.
ODOC will work to address the needs of each of the 140 WKCC employees during the transition. The agency will transfer the approximately 1,000 inmates currently housed at the facility to other minimum security units.