Serial killer's letter highlights Oklahoma's county jail backlog problem

A letter from a man described as a serial killer 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.
by Andrew Knittle Published: January 21, 2013
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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.

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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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