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Prison population holding around 98 percent

Oklahoman Modified: May 15, 2007 at 6:29 pm •  Published: May 15, 2007
OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma Department of Corrections officials have been able to stem the flow of inmates into state prisons, but the number of prisoners continued to exceed available bed space, officials said Tuesday.

As of midnight Monday, there were 24,131 inmates in the prison system, including 17,683 in state facilities, said Jerry Massie, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Another 6,448 are being housed in private prisons, contract beds in county jails and halfway houses, Massie said.

The 24,131 puts state prisons at 97.77 percent capacity, he said. Capacity is considered to be 97 percent, since some beds must remain vacant for inmates who must be isolated or are temporarily away from prison for court appearances.

"We're just trying to control the amount of receptions to match what we have in terms of bed space," Massie said.

There are still 1,200 inmates in county jails, not counting those who are there because the state is paying jails to house them, Massie said.

The Corrections Department received two supplemental appropriations _ one for $9.6 million and another for $23 million _ to help pay its bills during the current fiscal year. Corrections officials had requested $47 million in emergency funding to deal with inmate overcrowding and other issues.

Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, said he didn't know what other amount of funding may be coming for the agency, nor whether it would be enough to fund it through the end of the upcoming fiscal year.

"Our past track record has been we never fully fund them and they have to come back for more," Lerblance said.

Federal court intervention may follow if legislators don't address the issue sooner rather than later, Lerblance said.

"What are we going to do with the people? We're starting to back up in the county jails," he said.

Some funding has been provided for county sheriffs to house inmates, but that takes away space needed to house people who, in some cases, have to serve up to a year in jail, Lerblance said.

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