Lawsuit seeks higher rates to house Oklahoma prisoners

by Andrew Knittle Modified: January 1, 2013 at 9:07 pm •  Published: January 2, 2013
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Jerry Massie, spokesman for the state Corrections Department, said the agency would not comment while the lawsuit is pending.

However, documents filed by the department's attorney do shed some light on how the large state agency will defend itself in court.

Michael Oakley, general counsel for the state Corrections Department, wrote in a response filed in November that Bryan County hasn't “asserted that it is in a position of using ad valorem taxes to support offenders awaiting transport, nor that such a situation has ever existed.”

“To do so, (Bryan County) would be required to establish, factually, its actual per diem rate by revealing the amounts paid in debt service, meals, personnel costs, utilities and any additional expenses related to incarceration of inmates in their facility,” Oakley wrote in the response.

Oakley also wrote that counties would have to reveal “other sources of revenue, such as profits obtained from offenders for use of telephones and canteen and from the lease of cells to state, federal or municipal governments.”

“Otherwise, a county could claim they were being compelled to utilize ad valorem taxes and assert an artificially high per diem rate,” the attorney wrote.

The response filed by the state Corrections Department goes on to question why every offender sentenced to a term in a state prison must be held at a county jail.

“In the past, offenders were sent home on appeal bonds while awaiting reception into the state system,” Oakley wrote.

“Current technology, such as global positioning satellites, makes this option more viable and safer than it was in years past, and it can be funded by the offender himself.”

Pruitt weighs in

Pruitt discussed the county jail backlog issue in an opinion he wrote last year.

The opinion was in response to a set of questions submitted by state Sen. Josh Brecheen. Brecheen, R-Coalgate, who was elected in 2010, represents Atoka, Coal, Bryan, Johnston and Marshall counties in the southeastern part of Oklahoma.

Pruitt's opinion states the $27-per-day rate is sufficient — unless the cost of housing a particular inmate exceeds that amount.

Yet, the opinion ultimately offers no resolution to the controversy between the state Corrections Department and Bryan County officials.

“Whether the per diem rate … is sufficient to defray the full costs to a specific county, and whether a specific county used ad valorem tax revenue to cover the costs of housing state inmates in county jails constitute questions of fact, and are beyond the scope of an Attorney General Opinion,” Pruitt wrote in the opinion.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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