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COPY-Oklahoma Prisoner Numbers Growing While Guard Numbers Decline

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Understaffed prisons filled beyond capacity and a budget shortfall likely to make the problem worse could provide the impetus for legislators to address the politically difficult task of reducing inmate growth.

Oklahoma prisons reached an all-time high of inmates last month, more than 28,500, while the number of guards is at 67 percent of authorized levels.

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton told legislators last week that further budget cuts could force him to eliminate nearly 340 more positions.

While additional funding will be difficult because of a budget shortfall, Republican leaders have signaled a willingness to support policies aimed at curbing inmate growth.

Among the bills are one to give judges more discretion in sentencing and others to allow the Pardon and Parole Board to track inmates electronically.

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