WEIGHT LIFTING IN PRISON
The House passed Rep. Richard Phillips' bill on a 79-16 vote.
Phillips, R-Warr Acres, argued life inside Oklahoma prisons shouldn't be better than life outside.
Opponents argued the bill would make the job of prison guards more difficult. Rep. Tommy Thomas, D-Atoka, said television sets are the best babysitters guards have. Others said the television can be used for educational purposes.
The proposal would also ban cable televison in all prisons and prohibit weight-lifting equipment in maximum-security prisons.
A bill banning television from the state's two maximum security prisons was approved 79-16 by the House of Representatives Wednesday.
The measure, which now goes before the Senate, also bans cable TV, weight-lifting equipment and materials with nude pictures in all state prisons.
During lengthy debate, one lawmaker said he fears taking away televisions will put guards in grave danger, while another said that inmates should be let loose, then shot by an armed citizenry.
Rep. Lloyd Fields, whose legislative district includes the McAlester prison, said taking away televisions and physical activites could cause the prisoners to riot.
"I don't think you quite understand what this would do to the people that's out on the front lines," said Fields, D-McAlester. "You're gonna put them in jeopardy, if this was to happen, because that prison will burn again. Other prisons will burn again. This will be an uprising."
The Oklahoma State Penitentiary at McAlester was torched by inmates during a 1973 riot.
Rep. Wayne Cozort said Wednesday, "If they riot, then shoot a few. I'm sick of the prisoners controlling the whole agenda," a statement which drew applause from some House visitors in the gallery.
"If the security people down there are afraid to control the prisoners and the law doesn't allow them to, lets just turn them loose. And when we stat carrying guns, maybe we can shoot a few of them," said the Tulsa Republican.
The legislature is contemplating a bill that would allow Oklahomans to carry concealed weapons.
Viewing the House debate from the gallery Wednesday, state Corrections Director Larry Fields said he opposes the bill because it takes away tools to manage the burgeoning prison population without increasing the guard staffing.
Fields stressed that tax dollars do not pay for televisions. Inmates or their families pay for the televisions and also for cable TV. The television ban would afffect about 1,250 inmates at McAlester and about 80 male prisoners in maximum security at Mable Bassett prison in Oklahoma City from having televisions.
Corrections officials estimate that House Bill 1639 would cost nearly $10 million to hire 25 percent more guards, the number needed to manage prisoners who will have more idle time and be prone to cause trouble. Contending there are already low staffing ratios, Fields said, "Sometime tonight, there will be 10-12 staff members for 850 inmates at the Jess Dunn Correctional Center. The facility houses the inmates in a dormitory setting without fences. Staffing ratios are higher during the daytime, although corrections officials say Oklahoma's overall ratio is one guard to nine prisoners, while the national average is one to five.
Meanwhile, Rep. Fields announced on the House floor that Rep. Richard Phillps, author of the televison ban bill, "told me that you wanted publiciy out of this and you're gonna get it."
Phillips said he's talked to people who are outraged that prisoners have televisons, exercise equipment and commissaries.
"I didn't run this bill as a publicity stunt," he said, He said rape victims and others hurt by law-breakers can't understand why prisoners have televisions.
Phillips, R-Warr Acres, said he didn't have any correctional facilities in his district.
Corrections Director Fields said if exercise equipment is taken away, the inmates will do the same thing in their cells by lifting up the beds.
Rep. Mike Ervin said that Attorney General Drew Edmondson has a different idea regarding televisions. If an inmate is deemed to have filed a frivolous lawsuit, the attornery general can go after recovery of funds and confiscate televisons, the Wewoka Democrat said.
Keating, a former prosecutor, said he understands the frustrations of the public and legislators who support a ban on televison at least in maximum security prisons.
"I think that sends a bad message," Keating said.
"Prisons should be an uncomfortable experience. Being in prison should be less desirable than being outside of prison."
To suggest that we're going to bribe prisoners and assure their good behavior by giving them weight training and giving them Cinemax and HBO is going after this thing backwards."
Oklahoma City - After three weeks of long days and lengthy agendas, the House of Representatives completed floor votes on scores of House bills Thursday.
Among the measures endorsed last week were proposals to get tough with criminals of all ages, promote commerce in Oklahoma, and decentralize administration of public schools.
House Bill 1639 would reduce convicts to a Spartan existence during their tenure in the state's custody.
The bill would prohibit maximum-security inmates from having in their penitentiary cells any television, cablevision or other video equpment, or any printed material, except medical textbooks, "that show the nude bodies of humans...."
As for other inmates in either public or private prisons, they could have televisons in their cells but would be barred from having cable TV outlets, or other video equipment, as well as any pornography, either "hardcore" or "softcore."
News Press Capital Bureau
Oklahoma City _
HB 1639 to ban television sets and other frills in state prisons, passed 79-16.
Stillwater area representatives voted yes.
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