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Oklahoma Department of Corrections stops funding request for prison rodeo

Oklahoma Department of Corrections stops funding request for prison rodeo

Efforts to reinstate a prison rodeo appear to have stalled.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Steven Harpe told a legislative panel Tuesday that his agency is no longer pursuing an $8.3 million appropriation this session to restart the prison rodeo at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.

Instead, the agency wants the Legislature to approve an interim investigation into the issue so that certain questions can be answered, Harpe said.

The last rodeo took place in 2009, according to the agency.

In 2010, state budget cuts, low attendance and crumbling facilities contributed to the rodeo’s closure.

At least two measures moving through the legislative process supported recreating the rodeo.

However, critics raised concerns about the safety of participants, the welfare of the animals and other pressing issues facing the organization, such as staffing and infrastructure needs.

Harpe said while he is confident the rodeo will generate revenue, the agency wouldn’t be able to restart the rodeo without additional dollars.

“Right now we are considering pulling out and going to the midterm session over the summer so we can bring in people like the PBR (Professional Bull Riders), IFR (International Finals Rodeo) and other concert promoters who want to take advantage of the facilities so that we can show the Legislature the fully thought out plan on how we would generate the revenue,” Harpe said.

He said the issue could come up again next session.

“We are fully committed to making this happen,” Harpe said.

Sen. Blake Stephens, R-Tahlequah, said he supported reinstating the rodeo and was enthusiastic about the interim study.

“It’s going to be great for the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

Harpe said the rodeo will not only benefit McAlester, but also generate revenue for the state.

“Inmates want this,” Harpe said. “They want the opportunity to do this.”

Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, said he hoped the interim study would include all costs associated with its operation.

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