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Commissioners mull how to solve overcrowding at Payne County Jail


STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- Even a massive county budget cut would probably not solve the problem of the overcrowded Payne County Jail, County Commissioner Gloria Hesser said Monday.

Payne County officials have been ordered by the state Health Department to fix the overcrowding at the jail within 60 days or face its possible closure.

But Hesser said it would cost about $50 a day cost to house an inmate elsewhere, which appears to be out of the county's price range.

On Monday, the jail had 79 inmates -- 21 over its capacity.

Only the county's general fund can be used to pay for housing up to two dozen inmates in other jails, but it would not be enough to end the overcrowding problem, officials said.

Hesser said she didn't want to consider freeing inmates accused of violent crimes or any controlled drugs.

"All of our choices are bad," said Assistant District Attorney Charles Rogers. "We need additional revenue," from grants or taxes, or "bail out more inmates to commit more crimes."

The jail has been warned before about its overcrowding, but was only threatened with closing last week, said Undersheriff Ken Willerton.

County Commissioner Bill Deering said the state apparently is not willing "to close a blind eye" anymore to the county's overcrowded jail.

He said the county is going to have to try to build grass-roots support for a new jail, but voters in 1998 rejected a county sales tax to expand the jail and build an administrative building.

Earlier this year, voters approved a smaller county sales tax to build a separate administrative building that eventually will free the courthouse for courts and district attorney only.

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