Report Shows More Budget Issues At Tulsa County Jail

Wednesday, August 24th 2016, 8:27 pm
By: Emory Bryan

The Tulsa County jail has a continuing problem with staff - not as many employees as administrators want, yet not enough money to pay the staff that's already there.

It's not that anyone isn't going to get paid, but the continuing problem is that payroll is up, even after they've cut the number of employees.

In the short-term, it's a budget issue, but in the long-term, it could be a safety concern.

A new report to Tulsa's Criminal Justice Authority shows costs rising and opportunities for savings.

The trustees on the jail authority continue to voice their concerns about the budget - concerns validated with a report from an oversight committee.

"The jail, as far as I can tell, will always have budgetary issues," said Dan Witham with the Sales Tax Overview Committee.

That stark analysis comes after the new administration in the sheriff's office has cut staff by not replacing deputies who leave the jail.

Lesser paid jail detention officers are being hired at a lower cost - $34,000 less - and that's why the jail is moving work from higher paid deputies to lower paid staff.

But, jail trustee Momodou Ceesay says the county also needs to consider who really needs to be in jail.

"The people who are not supposed to be there, not a threat to society, they should not be in that jail. If we reduce the population by 300, 400 people, in a year, the cost of running that jail would be substantially manageable," Ceesay said.

In the last year, the payroll for the jail and related operations increased another four percent - even though the number of employees dropped by 12 percent. The payroll now stands at $25 million a year.

That comes as the jail is on the verge of expansion, adding room for more inmates and needing even more staff.

Witham said, “It's a very fine line that the jail administrator, the sheriff's office, has to walk, between the safety of the prisoners and the cost.”

The jail administrator wants more help but recognizes the county doesn't have the budget for it right now.

A huge challenge for them is turnover for jail detention officers - now estimated at about 30 percent a year.