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April 6, 2014

Oklahoma prison boss clearing county jails

OKLAHOMA CITY — After just a few months on the job, the new director of Oklahoma’s prison system is pushing more inmates into vacant beds at work centers and halfway houses and has nearly tripled the intake rate of prisoners into state facilities.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton is looking for ways to tighten the $464 million annual budget for state prisons, and he believes clearing the backlog of more than 1,700 offenders in county jails across the state will help. But not all sheriffs and jail administrators are happy to see the inmates go. Many count on the $27 daily rate to house DOC inmates to keep their jail operations running.

Beginning last week, the department went from receiving 35 offenders each day to 100 each day, and has reduced the county jail backlog by nearly 500 inmates, according to figures provided by DOC.

“We’re looking hopefully by sometime in May to get all 1,700 out of the county jails. That’s the goal,” said Patton, a 30-year veteran of the prison industry hired in January from the Arizona Department of Corrections.

For some counties, clearing out jail inmates who already have been sentenced by a judge to serve prison time helps ease overcrowding or free up bed space for more lucrative federal or municipal contracts. But most Oklahoma counties will lose a consistent revenue stream that is typically used to offset the cost of jail operations, said Ray McNair, director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association.

“The majority need those inmates,” McNair said. “When you pull every one of them they’ve got, you’re going to have an impact on the operation of that jail. The only thing the sheriff can do is go back to the county commissioners and ask for more money.”

At the Payne County Jail in Stillwater, about 40 of the 210 inmates are awaiting transfer to DOC custody, which amounts to more than $1,000 each day that is used to fund the jail’s food and medical costs.

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