Oklahoma State Penitentiary
Construction of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary began in 1908
when the Oklahoma Legislature set aside 1,556 acres of land
northwest of McAlester and appropriated $850,000 for the state's
first prison. Prior to statehood in 1907, all felons convicted in
Oklahoma Territory were sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary.
The West Cellhouse and Administration Building were the first
structures completed at the penitentiary site. The Rotunda and
East Cellhouse were added later and additional buildings have
been constructed on an as-needed basis.
At first, women inmates were housed on the fourth floor of the
West Cellhouse. The female population had grown to 26 by the time
a separate building about one mile west of the main institution
was completed in 1926.
The most costly prison riot in the history of the nation broke
out on July 27, 1973. Damage was estimated to be between $20
million and $40 million.
A federal court in 1978 found conditions at the penitentiary
unconstitutional. Consequently, four new housing units were built
and in 1984 the aging East and West Cellhouses were closed.
The Talawanda Heights Minimum Security Unit was opened outside
the East Gate Area in October of 1989 to house inmates utilized
by the host facility in institutional support positions.
A Special Care Unit was opened July 20, 1992, to ensure that
the needs of special management offenders are met. This unit
provides mental health care to offenders, thereby reducing the
need for long-term hospitalization outside the facility.
A medium security unit with a capacity of 140 inmates is
located on "G" and "I" units. It is designed
to provide a safe and secure environment for medium security
inmates to more successfully adjust to the transition to a lower
The newest addition, "H Unit," provides new quarters
for disciplinary segregation inmates, death row, and the lethal
injection death chamber. H Unit also houses Administrative
Segregation and Level III general population inmates.
Joseph Harp Correctional Center is a medium security
institution, located eight miles east of Lexington in south
central Oklahoma. It consists of 39 buildings, 13 acres of
institutional property, and six acres of Oklahoma State Industry
property. The facility officially opened on September 16, 1978,
and received its first inmates two days later.
The site of the facility was used by the Navy as a firing
range during World War II. After the war, the land was turned
over to the Mental Health Department, which in turn, transferred
it to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections in 1971.
The facility was named after the late Joseph Harp, who served
as warden of the Oklahoma State Reformatory from 1949 to 1969.
Warden Harp's enlightened attitude toward corrections has greatly
impacted Oklahoma corrections today.
Nicknamed "Harp City," the facility was originally
built to house 415 inmates, but it currently double cells more
than 900. Most inmates at JHCC are long-term offenders.
The JHCC chapel assists many inmates in their personal quest
for spiritual growth and development. The many religious
volunteers, representing various faiths, provide a milieu
conducive to religious study and counseling. Jews, Christians,
Muslims, and other religious groups are given accessibility and
assistance as they worship during their respective conferences,
festivals, and celebrations. Other chapel programs are created to
assist inmates and their families in the development of effective
strategies for living.
It is estimated that approximately 80 percent of all inmates
currently incarcerated in the state of Oklahoma have drug or
alcohol problems. Clearly, a significant factor in our prison
overcrowding. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has
developed a new approach to deal with our drug offender
At the Charles E. "Bill" Johnson Correctional Center
(BJCC), in Alva, Oklahoma, a multi-phase drug offender work camp
program designed to break this cycle is in progress. Utilizing
the discipline of the military boot camp model combined with
intensive drug treatment and a labor intensive work program, BJCC
will provide inmates an opportunity for positive change by
instilling personal responsibility and strong work ethics.
Inmates will receive orientation through the first 12-week
phase of boot camp to include strict regimentation, drill,
ceremony, inspections, labor intensive work, and physical
fitness. The inmate then will progress through two levels,
concentrating on substance abuse treatment and education programs
to earn increased privileges as they accept responsibility.
The final phase, a one-year after care program, will follow
the inmate to assess his ability to apply the program's
discipline to avoid future drug offenses.
As a catalyst in the pursuit of the correctional center, the
facility's namesake, Charles E. "Bill" Johnson, was
instrumental in persuading the Department of Corrections to
locate in Alva. When he learned about the possibility of such a
program being placed in a community in Oklahoma, Mr. Johnson
recruited many of his friends and business associates to help in
the pursuit of making the facility a reality.
Unfortunately, Mr. Johnson died on February 18, 1995, at the
age of 66, and was not able to see the completion of the facility
that he had worked so hard and faithfully to bring to his home
town. He would, however, be pleased to know that the Charles E.
"Bill" Johnson Correctional Center is providing more
than 100 jobs for this area of the state. He also would be
pleased to know that because of his efforts and those of his
friends and colleagues, the inmates at this facility will be
provided the opportunity to change their habits for life.