NORMAN — A letter from a convicted murderer to the Cleveland County judge who sentenced him to life in prison last fall illustrates the state's ongoing battle with what prison officials call county jail backlog.
Billy Dean Battenfield was convicted of his fourth murder in September after he pleaded guilty to the brutal slaying of Clair Owen Pollard, a retired social worker who originally lived in Maine.
Battenfield also was convicted of three murders in Texas and New Mexico in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The convict, who was described by a former FBI profiler as “serial killer,” had already spent more than half his life behind bars when he killed Pollard in late November 2011.
Cleveland County Judge Steve Stice sentenced Battenfield to life in prison — without the possibility of parole — in September.
The letter from Battenfield to Stice, dated Dec. 17, is seeking information about why the convict has yet to be transferred to a state prison.
“To this date, I am still waiting for the district attorney and the court clerk's office to certify my judgment and sentence in order for the sheriff to transport me,” the inmate wrote.
Battenfield does not complain about the county jail or list any grievances in the one-page, handwritten letter.
Stice, who responded in a letter dated the following day, issued a simple response. But despite its brevity, the letter points to overcrowding in the state's prisons as the reason for Battenfield's perceived lengthy stay at the Cleveland County jail.
“I investigated your concern,” the judge wrote. “Your (judgment and sentence) has been prepared, signed and certified for some time.
“Your transport to DOC will happen as soon as space in DOC is available.”
Both letters are part of the case file available on the Oklahoma State Court Network website.
County jail backlog
Before Pollard's murder, Battenfield only had been out of jail for between five and seven months. Before that, he was in prisons in New Mexico and Texas for 30 years.
Prison overcrowding issues, especially those in Oklahoma, have certainly changed since Battenfield was convicted of murder three decades ago.
In Oklahoma, swelling prison ranks are causing some inmates to languish in county jails for months, at times, before being transferred to state prisons to serve their sentences.
The issue, described by prison officials as county jail backlog, cost the state Corrections Department roughly $20 million in 2012.
A recent count of inmates in county jails awaiting transfer to state prisons totaled 1,700, a figure that has ballooned over the past decade.
The backlog issue has become a popular topic at county commissioners across the state.
Elected officials have complained publicly that inmates bound for state prisons are stretching resources at county jails. The Corrections Department, which pays counties $27 per day to house prison-bound men and women, doesn't reimburse the counties until after the inmate leaves.
The Corrections Department also pays for qualifying medical expenses, which is included in a 2007 law that set the per diem rate.
In June, Bryan County officials filed a lawsuit against the state Corrections Department over the issue. The suit isn't seeking money damages.
Instead, the county's attorney has asked an Oklahoma County district judge to determine what should happen if the per diem rate isn't enough to cover the cost of an inmate's incarceration in county jail.
The lawsuit is pending, court records show.
According to Cleveland County jail records, Battenfield is still in custody at the new jail on Franklin Road.