April 22, 2014

Biggs' bill having desired effects at Grady County Jail

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star


With a senatorial vote on HB 2804 possible any day, The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has starting pulling its inmates out of county prisons across the state. 

The legislation, authored by Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha), allows the presiding district judge in each county to set a daily reimbursement rate for housing inmates if the county and DOC cannot reach an agreement. State law allows the DOC to pay county jails just $27 per day per inmate housed. 

This has resulted in a burden for many small counties, prompting the state sheriff's association to protest at the Capitol today. 

For Grady County however, this bill addresses a long-time problem. 

The Grady County jail survives off of federal contracts and the previous law resulted in short falls when it came to money. Beds at the jail were taken up by DOC inmates and the federal government was unable to sleep their prisoners in the jail causing a $13 deficit per inmate. 

Recently, the DOC has removed dozens of inmates from the Grady County jail. 

Capt. Larry Crabb with the Grady County Criminal Justice Authority said he was not at liberty to say why the DOC has cut their amount of inmates in the jail from between 70 and 80 to just 12 in a matter of weeks, but he did say it was an unusually high amount.

"We used to have quite a few," Crabb said. "There's always going to be rolling over for those guys. Usually they pull 10 a month."

For about two to three weeks, Crabb said, the DOC has been removing inmates from the jail. 

Grady County Sheriff Jim Weir said this bill is causing wonders for the jail. 

"I emailed the head of the sheriff's association and told him we would have to sit this one (protest) out because this works out well for us," he said. 

The bill doesn't work so well for smaller counties that depend on money gained from DOC inmates. 

"In small areas, they like to have those inmates," State Sen. Ron Justice (R-Chickasha) said. "What we want to do is help all of them with this bill to enable them to negotiate on the housing of those inmates. If those counties have the ability to house inmates for less of a cost, it's a win-win for everybody."

As the bill progressed, the DOC began to move inmates out of multiple county jails, which set off alarm bells with those administrators worried about how this would affect their budget, Justice said.

"They've pulled inmates out after there's been some discussion on this, and some of the smaller counties have spoken up and said that was creating a hardship," he said. 

The bills has passed the committee phase in the Senate and could go to vote today if needed, according to Justice. The bill passed the state house of representatives in March.