MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

April 20, 2014

Sheriffs going to Capitol to fight plan to shift state inmates

Their county jails rely on state payments for holding prisoners

ADA (AP) — Sheriffs, undersheriffs and county commissioners across Oklahoma are planning a trip to the state Capitol this week to voice their displeasure with plans to remove state inmates from county jails.

New Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton has been pushing more inmates into vacant beds at work centers and halfway houses, and has nearly tripled the intake rate of prisoners into state facilities — from about 35 per day to about 100 daily — in an effort to better control the department’s $464 million budget.

But not all sheriffs are happy, as many count on the $27 daily rate paid by the state for housing DOC inmates to keep their jails running. They plan to tell legislators about it Tuesday.

“Over a decade ago, DOC needed beds for their inmates and there was no hope to build any state prisons. They requested help from county sheriffs and commissioners, who responded by building bigger jails that were needed for county inmates to accommodate the excess prisoner-load in the state facilities,” Ray McNair, the executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, said in a statewide email to sheriffs Friday.

“A law was passed allowing for a per diem for the inmates from DOC to be used to augment the jail operation,” McNair said. “The jail budgets were set up and projected to cover the extra cost of housing DOC inmates.”

Pontotoc County Sheriff John Christian told The Ada News that the reduction could mean he would have seven detention officers to watch, feed, clothe and manage the remaining 100 inmates.

“It will be impossible to operate the Pontotoc County Justice Center at this staffing level,” he said.

Christian said he has a staff of 25 at the jail and needs $1.3 million per year to run the jail. He said the state currently pays about $698,000 to house approximately 65 inmates in the county jail each year.

Patton, who was hired in January from the Arizona Department of Corrections, told the AP earlier this month that he hoped to have all the 1,700 state inmates being held in county jails at that time moved into state facilities by sometime in May.

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