March 12, 2014

Local crime may contribute to jail funding problem

James Bright, Managing Editor,
The Express-Star


Local crime may also be a contributing factor to the difficulty of sleeping federal inmates at the Grady County Jail. 

The Jail operates in a fashion where it receives a substantial portion of its income from the federal government, which pays $57 a night for their prisoners to stay in Grady. 

Local arrests tie up beds and make it more difficult to find space for federal inmates, according to Senior Principal for Capital Detention Systems LLC Truman Bidelspach, the contract consultants for the Grady County Justice Authority. 

"We have to look to the future of public safety in Grady County," he said. "If there is another method we can explore other than incarceration of non-violent criminals, then we need to explore it." 

Grady County Sheriff Jim Weir said the issue rests with the jail and it's up to that facility to find room for inmates, but he has made suggestions on how to combat this problem. 

"I've said if we need room for federal inmates, we should make contact with local county prisons and see if we can move some our prisoners there if we get full," he said. 

Today, HB 2804 will see a vote in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The bill, authored by Representative Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha), addresses the state Department of Corrections alleged abuse of county jails. 

Currently, state law allows the DOC to pay county jails $27 per day to house their inmates. This cost creates a $13 daily shortfall per inmate in Grady County, as the DOC allocates $40 per day, per inmate in its budget, according to Grady County Commissioner Jack Porter.

HB 2804 allows the presiding district judge of each county to set a daily reimbursement rate if the DOC and county are unable to reach an agreement on cost. 

Locally, this means Judge Richard Van Dyke would be charged with the duty. 

"It's not that complicated," he said. "The warden would submit the cost of food and housing for inmates and we would determine the price from there." 

As for local occupation, Van Dyke said the Grady County Jail's population is just part of life. 

"Judges determine what the bonds are, and some people are going to have to spend some time," he said. "The fact is, jails are going to be full right now." 

Weir said his department tries to cutdown on jail population by refusing the extradition of offenders who only have warrants due to unpaid expenses. 

"If we find out someone that we want (for financial warrants) was arrested out-of-state, we will go to the judge and tell him we don't want that person right now," Weir said. "It's not worth the time and money to send someone to pick them up, so we can incarcerate them." 

Weir and close to 50 other sheriffs and under sheriffs across the state converged on the Capitol yesterday to voice their support for Biggs' bill, but were met with a strange opposition. 

"We were in the senate chambers when an usher came up and told us we had to surrender our guns, or we all had to leave," Weir said. "We all left." 

Weir joked about the concept of state legislatures fearing a group of armed police officers. 

"I mean, do they think we think they're doing such a bad job that we want to shoot them," he asked. "We came from all over the state and they don't trust us with our guns."

Bidelspach said despite the outcome of today's vote, he hopes this discussion will spark a debate over how to handle non-violent criminals moving forward. 

"A lot of these people will start out with small stuff and move up to other crimes after incarceration," he said. "We need to use this discussion to look at alternative sentencing methods."