The Norman Transcript

Opinion

January 3, 2013

Lawsuit may help raisecounty jail reimbursement

NORMAN — County commissioners and Oklahoma sheriffs have been complaining for years about the reimbursement they receive for holding state prisoners. Now, a county in southeastern Oklahoma, is asking a state court to decide on the costs.

An overloaded state prison system backs up sentenced prisoners into county jails. Cleveland County’s new detention center has dozens of inmates that are awaiting transport to available beds in the state prison system. It’s the same story in county jails statewide. Many counties blame the state for overcrowding that forced them to build new, larger jails.

An Oklahoma City newspaper reports about 1,700 prisoners are taking up space in county jails, costing the state about $20 million a year. Counties receive about $30 per day reimbursement. Cities pay Cleveland County $45 per day.

The Bryan County commissioners’ lawsuit alleges it costs more than the state’s reimbursement. Other counties pay them $40 per day to house their prisoners. The rate was set in 2007.

The suit also challenges the use of ad valorem taxes (property taxes) to pay state bills. That has been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court, according to the lawsuit.

State officials have been reluctant to build any new prisons and have contracted out many inmates to private facilities.

But the problem is lengthy sentences, mandated timelines and more inmates are coming into the system than are leaving, making little space in state jails.

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