Last updated: April 23. 2014 10:34AM - 630 Views
SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Sheriffs from across the state gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to voice concern about the increasing number of state prisoners who are being removed from county jails and processed into the state prison system of public and private jails.

The state’s new prison director, Robert Patton, announced earlier this month that he was working to alleviate the county jail backup, which had swelled to more than 1,900 inmates.

Many of the sheriffs who packed the Senate gallery count on the $27 daily per-prisoner reimbursement from the state to help fund jail operations, like medical and food contracts.

“When that money goes, it will have to be supplemented from somewhere,” said Beckham County Sheriff Scott Jay, who receives an estimated $274,000 annually to pay for housing state inmates. “We may have to cut deputies out on the road.”

Prisons spokesman Jerry Massie said Tuesday that the backlog has been reduced to about 1,000, with more transfers underway.

“We’re still following the plan,” Massie said.

Patton, a 30-year veteran of the prison industry, was hired in January after the former director, Justin Jones, had a series of high-profile clashes with the governor’s office and Republican legislative leaders about the growing use of private prisons, which Jones opposed.

Patton has said he supports the use of private prisons.

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 contracts to house federal or municipal inmates. But most Oklahoma counties will lose a consistent revenue stream that is typically used to offset the cost of jail operations with Patton’s plan to move inmates out of their jails, said Ray McNair, director of the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association.

McNair said sheriffs received little advance notice about Patton’s plan, and are struggling to adjust to it.

“They’re his inmates. We can’t tell him what to do,” McNair said. “But at least give them a call. Take it slow and give them time to adjust their budgets.”

Patton said he hopes to have all the state inmates in county jails cleared out by the end of May.

During an interview last week, Bryan County Sheriff Ken Golden said he didn’t know yet what impact this would have on Bryan County.

He said county commissioners told him this will be a good thing because it has been costing the jail more to hold them per day than DOC is paying.

“We don’t really know right now how it’s going to affect us,” Golden said.

- Jessica Breger of the Durant Daily Democrat contributed to this story

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