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Working in Prisons - Personnel, Politics, Patronage

NCJ Number
Prison Journal Volume: 62 Issue: 2 Dated: (Autumn/Winter 1982) Pages: 68-84
J A Conley
Date Published
17 pages
This article traces the historical roots of the working conditions for prison guards in Oklahoma from 1907 until 1980; the patronage process, quality of personnel, and corruption are addressed.
During the first 60 years of development, Oklahoma's penal system recruited its personnel through the patronage system. Oklahoma adhered to the Jacksonian philosophy that anyone was capable of holding public office and that the infusion of new blood into the governmental system every 2 or 4 years was healthy for democracy. As a result, political machines dominated the patronage system and helped to strengthen the political power of an incumbent administration and reward its supporters. The Governor server as the chief executive of the patronage system. The patronage system had a disastrous effect on the penal system. There were no standards for recruitment of the guards, and most guards viewed prison jobs as temporary employment. In addition, patronage kept the salaries of penal personnel at an extremely low level. From 1913 to 1953 guards' monthly salary rose from $60 to $175, a $115 raise over a 40-year time span. In 1959, the State passed legislation creating a statewide merit system. Nevertheless, working conditions remained poor and long working hours remained, accompanied by high turnover rates. No lasting reform could take place until the State decided to remove politics from the personnel system and set minimum employment standards. The legislature finally passed a bill in 1967 creating a State Correction Department and setting personnel standards linked to the State's merit system. This reform effort was largely symbolic, however, because the impact on corrections personnel was minimal. Fifty-two footnotes are provided.