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Oklahoma Counties Scramble To Fill Budget Void Left By Removal Of DOC Inmates

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VINITA, Oklahoma -

Sheriffs across Oklahoma are trying to figure out how to keep their jails running.

Budget cuts forced the Department of Corrections to stop paying 10 counties to house Department of Corrections inmates.

Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey says his jail used to hold up to 32 DOC inmates at any given time, but now, they're gone. He calls it a luxury to be able to make money for housing inmates from the Department of Corrections.

It's a luxury he no longer has.

"I don't know any way to come up with 100 thousand dollars out of thin air," said Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey.

The DOC paid county jails $32 a day per inmate to house them. Winfrey says - between food, water and electricity - it costs the jail about $24 a day to hold each one.

Sheriff Winfrey said, "We're netting about eight to ten dollars per inmate, per day. That's what our net profit is."

Until he and nine other sheriffs got a letter, ending their contracts early by about three months.

"It was a shock," he said. "We didn't know it was coming."

The loss is hitting counties across the state including Craig, Nowata, Okmulgee and LeFlore.

"It's a scary situation when you lose that kind of money."

In Craig County, the money helped pay to run the jail, the biggest expense of the sheriff's office. So, Winfrey says it's time to figure out how to make up for the loss, which he estimates is between $100,000 and $115,000.

Ultimately, he's looking for another detainment contract, because he says there isn't room to cut anything in the budget.

"There's no excess of people. There's no fat to trim for us," he said. "If you start trimming fat, we start losing the ability to provide the service that we need to do. So, there's no extra"

The DOC says moving the inmates to its own facilities will save nearly $800,000 by the end of the fiscal year, and it has no plan to put inmates back into county jails in the near future.

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