NORMAN — The new jail, which was constructed to combat overcrowding in the old Cleveland County Jail, is now suffering from the same problem.
Jail and county officials discussed the issue at the Wednesday morning meeting of the Cleveland County Justice Authority.
Chief of detention Carrie Davis said the F. DeWayne Beggs Detention Center was ready, as of Friday, to send 67 of its inmates to state prisons, but it can’t — at least not quickly.
Jail officials say it will take them about 11 months, at the current rate, to transport all of these sentenced inmates to the Department of Corrections.
The jail can deliver up to six inmates to the Department of Corrections each month, and that’s only when the department says it’s ready to take them.
“We’re getting anywhere from 10 to 15 (new inmates) per month,” Davis said after the meeting. “The odds are not in our favor.
“They’re not putting two and two together to realize that we don’t have all of our pods open,” she said of state officials.
The old jail was on the department’s emergency list, which allowed for more frequent transfers of sentenced inmates to prisons, but the new jail isn’t so fortunate.
She said her facility is filling up, and it likely won’t have the funding to open its third pod for at least another year.
The Cleveland County Budget Board cut the jail’s funding for Fiscal Year ’12-’13 by 22.2 percent — to $3.11 million from $4 million for the previous year.
The budget has yet to be finalized by the Excise Board, so Davis said there is still the possibility that the budget could be amended, though she said she doesn’t expect to see the debut of the final pod in the near future.
Davis said the overcrowding isn’t just a result of limited space and slower prison transfers.
The jail also is filling up because more inmates are receiving prison sentences.
In fact, one inmate recently was sentenced to 75 days in prison on a charge of public intoxication.
Adding to the issue
Davis said the issuance of more and harsher sentences has become common practice among municipal judges throughout Cleveland County.
There was a time, the jail administrator said, when municipal judges would release offenders on personal recognizance and cut them loose.
“Now, they’re sentencing them because they (defendants) owe fines, so they’re allowing them to sit their fines out in jail.”
She said defendants released on personal recognizance are allowed temporary freedom with the expectation that they would reappear in court and pay their fines.
With more and more defendants not meeting those expectations, Davis said, municipal judges have had to adapt, and the jail is trying to keep up.
“It’s causing a crowding issue with us because it’s causing our inmate count to go up,” Davis said. “Normally they (defendants) get arrested and stay a day or two before they’re released.”
Davis said she suspects the issue results not just from the fact that modern defendants are becoming more cash-strapped, but also that municipal judges may be of the same opinion as the Department of Corrections: that the jail has plenty of space.
District 3 County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan said the issue needs to be brought to the attention of Cleveland County’s cities, as they’re incurring costs, too.
“The cities need to know that they’re paying more because the city judges are not moving them through the city,” Sullivan said.
The Department of Corrections eventually will reimburse the jail for the upkeep of all of these sentenced inmates — from the date of their sentencing — but only after the inmates are transported.
And the department’s not paying interest.
“If they’re here six months, we’re basically putting the money up front for six months,” Davis said. “The billing starts from the time the judgment and sentencing is received.”
Davis said the jail has little control over the process, as the length of time it takes for a sentenced prisoner to be transported to a prison is completely up to the Department of Corrections.
“There’s no mandated requirement to my knowledge,” Davis said. “We’ve got people who’ve been sentenced since January in here.”
District 1 County Commissioner Rod Cleveland said jails statewide, which are suffering from much the same problems, could soon get at least some financial relief.
He said the Bryan County sheriff is pushing for legislative change that would improve the way jails are reimbursed for the temporary holding of sentenced inmates.
In the meantime, however, the jail has to figure out how to adapt to a shrinking budget and limited space.