Sheriffs in rural counties across Oklahoma are worried about a potential plan to remove state inmates from their jails. The sheriffs get reimbursed by the state, and many count on that money to meet their budget.
The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office wants all of its state inmates to be removed from the jail; they call them a burden on their resources. But many smaller county jails rely on the money they get from the state to keep its inmates.
The Nowata County Sheriff's Office has a budget of $145,000 a year. Some of that goes to the jail where they spend, for example, $1,400 every week just on groceries alone.
To help add to the budget Sheriff Jim Hallett has contracted with the state Department of Corrections to house inmates who would normally be in a state prison. The state pays up to $32 a day to the counties to take care of its inmates. For Nowata County, that adds up to around $335,000 every year, more than twice its annual budget.
"So we need the money, we need the help," Hallett said.
The DOC has been removing its inmates from county jails since the beginning of the year to get a better grip on its budget, but that has Hallett worried.
He said the county only budgets for 5 employees in his office, but he now has 22, all thanks to the DOC contract. If that goes away, he said, his employees could begin seeing pink slips.
"Have to layoff jailers, deputies, everything...could not give Nowata County the protection it needs or deserves," Hallett said.
It's a different story 20 miles away in Washington County where there are currently 140 state inmates in its jail.
The sheriff there said the sooner he gets rid of those state inmates, the better. He said it simply costs the county more money to house those inmates than he gets in reimbursement from the state.
In Nowata, Hallett is hoping the state sees that small counties need the state contracts and continues to place state inmates in their jails.
"We could get lost in the shuffle, but I'm hoping that over the 18 years we have spent with them that see us somewhere and look out for us actually," said Hallett.
A group of sheriffs, undersheriffs and county commissioners are going to the state Capitol Tuesday to protest the DOC plans.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit filed by Tulsa County against the state to remove all state inmates from the jail here continues to move forward. A spokesman for the sheriff's office said they expect the case to go all the way to the state supreme court.