MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 3, 2013

State should pay for its inmates


— County jails should not be left holding the bill for housing state inmates.

That’s the bottom line.

While a lawsuit filed by Bryan County commissioners against the Oklahoma Department of Corrections winds its way through the judicial system, the state must begin determining the real cost of housing inmates in county facilities.

Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson has said it costs about $43 per day to house inmates.

A state law, which Bryan County commissioners are challenging in court, caps reimbursement rates at $27 per day.

The amount each inmate costs counties probably varies from county to county, but a reasonable rate should be able to be determined.

And the state should pay the whole bill.

At any given time there are about 1,000 to 1,500 inmates who are waiting to be transferred from a county jail to a state prison because of overcrowding in state facilities.

The inmates were arrested, tried and convicted — all at county expense.

But once they are sentenced to a state prison, the state should begin paying full freight for each prisoner.

The lawsuit centers around whether county ad valorem taxes can be used to pay for state functions.

Regardless of whether a court rules counties can use the property taxes to offset the difference between state reimbursement and actual cost of housing inmates, the state  should pay.