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Oklahoma halfway house contract canceled after inmate death

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Lax oversight of inmates at a halfway house in Oklahoma City, including one inmate whose charred remains were discovered in a burned vehicle last month, led state prison officials to cancel its contract with the facility's operator, the head of Oklahoma's prison system said Monday.

Catalyst Behavioral Services did not conduct inmate counts properly, allowed inmates to come and go without accountability and didn't have properly trained staff, among other problems, said Department of Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh.

"The department has been, for years, at wits' end on corralling our halfway houses," Allbaugh said. "We are failing at re-entry and this is the first step to instill more accountability in our halfway house system as these men and women return to society."

Telephone and email messages left Monday with Oklahoma City-based Catalyst were not immediately returned.

Allbaugh said inmate Justin Sullivan left the facility Nov. 11 and was not noticed missing until after Ardmore police found his and a woman's burned bodies in a charred vehicle. Police are investigating the deaths as homicides.

Another inmate walked away from the facility and was arrested four days later in Tulsa for armed robbery, Allbaugh said.

Most of the 106 inmates housed at Catalyst's Oklahoma City halfway house loaded up their belongings on Monday and were being transferred to other facilities in the Oklahoma City area, Allbaugh said. About a dozen will be sent to a facility in Alva.

Catalyst receives $32.50 per inmate per day and also operates a women's halfway house in Enid, although Allbaugh said that contract is not being ended. The state has contracted with Catalyst for 14 years, and last year spent more than $1.5 million on its contract for the men's halfway house in Oklahoma City.

Overall, Oklahoma houses about 1,250 men and women in halfway houses, where inmates are allowed to leave the facilities for approved purposes, like going to work, finding a job or attending church.

"We're not given enough money to run halfway houses ourselves, so we have to rely on contractors to provide this service," Allbaugh said.

Catalyst is one of four companies that operate halfway houses under contracts with Oklahoma, DOC spokesman Matt Elliott said.

Oklahoma's prison system has struggled for years with overcrowded and dilapidated prisons, many of which were originally designed as hospitals or youth homes. Allbaugh last month told state lawmakers he wants to triple the agency's budget despite the ongoing state budget crisis to fund ongoing repairs and the construction of two new prisons.


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