The state Corrections Department pays counties nearly $20 million each year to house inmates awaiting transfer to state-run prisons.
The problem, some say, is that prisoners — those already sentenced to terms in Oklahoma prisons — are languishing for months in county jails before transferring out.
Sheriffs and jail administrators say they don't see a dime until after the inmate is in state custody, which is allowed because of state law. Many also say the daily fee paid to them by the Corrections Department isn't enough to house prisoners, some times for months at a time.
Jerry Massie, a Corrections Department spokesman, says counties are paid $27 per day to house inmates awaiting transfer to state prisons, in accordance with state law. Right now, there are about 1,560 such inmates in county jails across Oklahoma, he said.
Massie said the Corrections Department paid $19.5 million last fiscal year “for county jail backlog.” The year before that, it was $19.8 million.
The Corrections Department also pays sentenced inmates' medical bills, at least ones that qualify, he said.
“We expect to pay about the same this year ... $19.5 million is what we have budgeted this year,” Massie said.
Massie said some counties send the Corrections Department monthly invoices, although state law only requires that payment be made once the inmate has been transferred.
‘A common concern'
With the state's district judges handing out more prison sentences these days, one lawman in southeastern Oklahoma is trying to do something to improve the situation.
Bryan County Sheriff Bill Sturch says he'd like to see laws changed to increase the $27-per-day stipend the Corrections Department pays counties to house sentenced inmates awaiting transfer to state prisons.
Sturch says it's “a common concern” among sheriffs in Oklahoma.
“We charge $40 per day to house inmates from Durant and surrounding communities,” he said. “We just feel like the state should at least pay the same.”