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McAlester, Okla.– On Thursday, House Bill 3749 was passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. If successful, the bill would set up a revolving fund to revitalize the rodeo grounds located at the McAlester State Penitentiary. A lump sum of $8.3 million would be funneled into the project which at one point was a tourist attraction. Profits from the prison rodeo will flow back into the Department of Corrections.

“For many years, the prison held a rodeo in this facility that was very popular with inmates and their families as well as staff,” Rep. Grego said in a press release.

Grego says that the Department of Corrections has committed $1 million to the project and it has garnered interest from the City of McAlester. He also said many professional cowboys have shown interest and it would bring a positive economic impact. 

Jim Farris, the DOC Chief Administrator of State Institutions, told McAlester News-Capital that he’s confident about revival. “The goal is in 2025 we’ll be rolling,” Farris said. 

There is also a Senate Bill that mirrors the language of HB 3749. Authored by Senators Warren Hamilton, Blake Stephens, and Darcy Jech, SB 1427 will codify the revolving fund into law. 

Currently, the only operating prison rodeo in the nation is the Angola Prison Rodeo in Louisiana. The rodeo sponsors events like bull and bareback riding, barrel racing, and wild cow milking.

Prison Rodeo History

The first Oklahoma prison rodeo took place in 1940. For 69 years, the events would take place in late summer. Inmates from detention facilities across the state would travel to McAlester to compete in front of the public. The last rodeo took place in 2009 and was ultimately discontinued in 2010.

Until 2006, the rodeo did not allow women to compete. A 2009 documentary titled Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo follows the journey of the convicted cowgirls.  

Criticism of Prison Rodeo Revival

Rep. Mauree Turner (D-OKC) took to social media on Thursday to voice concerns about reestablishing the prison rodeo. “While folks incarcerated have to be a level 4, or trustee of the department of corrections, in order to participate in a rodeo it does not do anything to shave off time for folks incarcerated in DOC,” Turner stated

“This is a way to bring revenue to the Oklahoma Department Of Corrections and hasn’t accounted for the health or injury that might come to the folks incarcerated, if I’m understanding the author correctly, because we know rodeo is a dangerous sport,” they continued.

Turner also sheds light on the fact that much of the Capitol’s furniture was made by inmates in state prisons. “The DOC continues to make money off of people who are incarcerated there, while not being good stewards of our community members who are forced to live there.”

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In 2003, PETA wrote a letter to Governor Brad Henry saying that the rodeo encourages torment and abuse of animals. The animal rights group suggested exploring alternatives such as a weight-lifting or basketball competition. 

Oklahoma Prison Statistics

In 2023, Oklahoma state prisons housed roughly 22,000 people. The state currently incarcerate 993 out of every 100,000 Oklahomans. This is above the national average of 664 per 100,000. 

Black people are the largest demographic group in Oklahoma Prisons. Despite accounting for only 7% of the state’s population, they made up 27% of the prison population in 2021. 
A 2021 report from the Sentencing Project shows that Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for most women incarcerated.

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