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August 17, 2013

Oklahoma jails becoming overcrowded as population keeps climbing

NORMAN — The prisoner population at the F. Dewayne Beggs Detention Center reached 500 this week. Of those prisoners, Undersheriff Rhett Burnett reported that about 25 percent are Department of Corrections bound.

“The biggest issue here is I have 123 inmates that DOC won’t come get,” Burnett said. “I’m rapidly losing the ability to segregate inmates for medical, disciplinary and administrative reasons.”

The three pods or main housing units that comprise jail are near maximum capacity, he said. The National Institute of Corrections uses an 80 percent rule — if 85 percent of the beds are full that’s actually overcrowded because at that point jail administrators lose the ability to segregate and separate inmates, Burnett said.

Inmates often need to be separated for various reasons to ensure the smooth operation and oversight of the jail and its population. Problem inmates and inmates with medical issues are examples of some that might need to be moved around.

Burnett said the biggest reason county jails are overcrowded in Oklahoma is because there is overcrowding at the DOC facilities. Because the state prisons don’t have any beds, they can’t take in the inmates in county jails who have already gone through judgment and sentencing and are awaiting transport.

Midweek, Cleveland County was housing 109 prisoners with judgment and sentencing already completed.

“The ones I have J and S’s for I can bill DOC, but they don’t pay enough,” Burnett said.

And the reimbursement doesn’t relieve crowding.

“The budget board and the (county) commissioners have been real helpful, but that’s not the issue,” Burnett said. “No one here in Cleveland County is not part of the solution.”

Burnett said he gets it that DOC is full, but state lawmakers need to take action to remedy the problem soon. He said many other counties are experiencing the same problem with crowding.

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