Oklahoma Charities and Corrections Commissioners
Catherine (Kate) Ann Barnard
1907 - 1915
Kate Barnard was Oklahoma's first Commissioner of Charities and Corrections. She was also the first woman elected to state office in Oklahoma history – and the nation – before women had the right to vote. She persuaded lawmakers to adopt laws governing compulsory education and child labor, and establishing the state's juvenile justice system.
Barnard is perhaps best known for discovering horrific treatment of Oklahoma prisoners in a Kansas prison where they were housed. That led to those inmates' return to Oklahoma, construction of the state's first prison (Oklahoma State Penitentiary), and the establishment of a three-tiered state prison system: a penitentiary, reformatory and boys' training school.
Her advocacy led to 30 new state laws addressing establishment of today's Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections proudly named one of three female prisons in her honor.
William D. Matthews
1915 - 1923
William Matthews was a veteran of the Confederate Army, a former teacher and Methodist preacher. He was Oklahoma's second Commissioner of Charities and Corrections from 1915 1923.
However, when Matthews was elected, then-Gov. Robert Lee Williams appointed him to the state pension board, of which he became chairman. Consequently, most of his time over the state prison system was devoted to his duties with the pension board.
Mabel Luella Bourne Bassett
1923 - 1947
Mabel Bassett was Oklahoma's third Charities and Corrections Commissioner. She was elected for six consecutive four-year terms. Bassett believed the state needed to drastically reform its prison system, improve prison conditions, expand probation services, outlaw inhumane treatment and build a women's prison in McAlester, which now sits empty.
Bassett spent her 24 years in office fighting for what she believed was right, investigating neglect reports in every state orphanage, jail, prison or similar institution. She was a vociferous advocate, arguing mere incarceration would not protect society – only inmate rehabilitation would.
Bassett worked to establish and maintain standards for correctional facilities and state mental institutions. She also established the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board in 1944.
For her outstanding contribution to the state, she was inducted into Oklahoma's “Hall of Fame” by the Oklahoma Memorial Association on Statehood Day in 1937.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections proudly named one of three female prisons in her honor.
1947 - 1967
Buck Cook, who defeated Mabel Bassett in a 1946 runoff election, was Oklahoma's fourth Commissioner of Charities and Corrections. Under his administration, his office's duties were limited to routine inspections of jails and other institutions.
A former state trooper, he retired after holding the office for 20 years. That same year, the legislature enacted the Oklahoma Corrections Act of 1967, creating a new state agency to administer court-imposed prison sentences.
1967 - 1977
The State Legislature enacted the Oklahoma Corrections Act of 1967 four months after Jim Cook took office as the fifth Commissioner of Charities and Corrections.
The act created a new Department of Corrections as of July 1, 1967. From 1967-1977, the Department of Corrections had both a Commissioner and a Director.
Cook resigned in 1977 after Oklahoma voters approved a constitutional amendment abolishing the position in 1975. The amendment did not take effect until January 1979.
1977 - 1979
An appointee of former Oklahoma Gov. David Boren, Jack Stamper led the Oklahoma Department of Charities and Corrections from October 1977 until the post ended in January 1979. He succeeded Jim Cook of Latimer County, who resigned after Oklahoma voters approved a constitutional amendment abolishing the position.
Before his appointment, Stamper served on the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission. He resigned that position to accept Boren's appointment.
Stamper was the former owner of the Hugo Daily News, the McCurtain County Gazette, which he bought in 1968, and former co-owner of the Antlers American, his obituary in The Oklahoman states. Stamper was also a veteran who served his country as a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Europe during World War II.