Okla. prison agency to seek $31.5 million increase

By Randy Bruce

November 5, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has requested an additional $31.5 million in next year’s budget to help manage the state’s growing prison population.

With the increase, the agency is seeking about $495 million in funding for fiscal year 2015. The department said the increased funding would be used to pay for a growing number of offenders who are placed in private prisons. The department did not receive an increase in funding for the current fiscal year.

Greg Sawyer, chief of business operations for the Department of Corrections, said the agency did not request extra money in 2015 for salary increases or capital improvements — just funding to handle an increasing number of prisoners.

“Our No. 1 issue is managing the growing population,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer told the Tulsa World that the Corrections Department is currently out of public prison space, with about 1,600 to 1,700 inmates currently being held in county jails awaiting beds in state prisons. He noted that the state recently closed about 300 beds at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester because they were unsafe and increasingly expensive to maintain.

Sawyer said the agency currently is not planning to request a supplemental appropriation to get through the current fiscal year, but that could change.

It is clear the agency has needs, but the next state budget likely will be flat, said Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger, Gov. Mary Fallin’s chief budget negotiator, said briefings on the next state budget have just started. Doerflinger said that although the state may see some growth in revenue, it won’t be significant.

Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature will have to determine where the Corrections Department request falls in line with priorities and state resources, Doerflinger said.

“I do think there is a recognition that corrections will need additional resources,” Doerflinger said.