Claremore Daily Progress

April 22, 2014

RCSO against DOC’s plans to move state prisoners out

Mark Friedel
Staff Writer

CLAREMORE —

Rogers County Undersheriff Jon Sappington spoke with county commissioners Monday about his concerns with plans to remove state inmates from county jails.
In order to save money at the state level, new Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton plans to pull DOC inmates from county jails and place them into vacant beds at work centers and halfway houses, nearly tripling the intake rate of prisoners in state facilities — from 32 per day to approximately 100.
Sappington said about 10 years ago, the 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 for county inmates to accommodate the excess in state prisons.
“A law was passed, allowing for a per diem for the DOC inmate to be used to augment the jail operation. Jail budgets were set up and projected to cover the extra cost of housing DOC inmates,” Ray McNair, executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association, said in a statewide email to sheriffs Friday.
Sappington said once DOC inmates get sentenced to prison, the state pays the sheriff’s office $27 a day per inmate.
“For every 10 inmates, I can generate about $100,000 and I would try to hold 20 to reach my $200,000 mark. Between 2008 and 2010, our inmate count was so high that we had to rush and flush state prisoners to keep count down,” said Sappington. 
“Since then, we’ve had a really good relationship with the judges and DA’s office to keep the count down to carry that burden, while still using needed funds to operate the jail. We have been averaging about 30-50 inmates for the last two years now.”
He said he cannot blame the DOC for wanting to house their inmates, but it is going to leave a financial strain on the county jails.
Because of actions made more than 10 years ago, most counties need extended stay DOC inmates to maintain their current jail operation.
“The director of DOC should welcome a partnership developed over the years, not shun those county officials who try to work within the system. The county jail is still the least expensive place to hold these inmates — the most expensive, by DOC’s own stats, is the private prison,” said McNair. 
This year, the Rogers County Jail is on pace to generate $600,000 from the state for housing DOC inmates. The jail is currently operating within a $2.6 million budget.
“If the DOC’s plans remain true and accurate, we’re going to go from $600,000 to maybe $100,000. If I’m not able to keep at least $200,000 to $300,000, then commissioners may have to start inserting funds to help with the operations,” said Sappington. 
“Our inmate count will drop, but that $2.6 million budget is needed whether I have 140 prisoners or 220,” said Sappington.
He said the intent to empty all DOC inmates from Rogers County Jail will not impact this fiscal year. The problem will occur next year because the county will initially receive funds for housing the DOC inmates as they are sentenced to state facilities.
Sheriffs, undersheriffs and county commissioners across Oklahoma will travel to the state capitol in Oklahoma City today to voice their concerns with plans to remove state prisoners from county jails.
“It is our feeling that an appeal to the State Senate needs to be made on the impact financially that this will have on more than half of the state’s counties’ jails,” McNair said.