Prison Officials Want Additional $90 Million

Saturday, September 22nd 2007, 3:02 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The state Board of Corrections wants to increase the state prison budget by $90 million next year and is asking Oklahoma state lawmakers for another $34.2 million to finish out the current year.

A budget request approved by the board on Thursday brings the agency's total budget to $572 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The agency is seeking a supplemental appropriation for the current fiscal year to pay private prisons to continue holding nearly 5,000 of the state's prisoners.

The agency initially expected it would still owe $40.3 million for private prison spending by year's end but made up some of that through temporary staff shortages and other savings, said Jim Harris, chief financial officer for the Corrections Department.

Despite crowding, prison officials backed away from requesting a new state prison in this year's budget, instead opting to seek expansions.

Last year, the agency sought construction of a new prison as part of a proposed $380 million bond plan. Some lawmakers and Gov. Brad Henry supported a proposed 2,500-bed expansion at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester but were reluctant to agree to any new prisons.

Ultimately, no major prison expansions were approved before the Legislature concluded.

``It has been quite a paradigm shift among this board,'' said Robert Rainey, a board member. ``Given the political realities, we are instead proposing add-ons.''

The current budget also calls for more than $300 million in bond debt to pay for expansion and renovation of existing prisons.

Board member Earnest Ware cast the sole dissenting vote against the budget after expressing disagreement with paying companies more for the same services provided by state-owned prisons.

State lawmakers have hired a management research and consulting firm, Florida-based MGT of America, Inc., to study ways to reduce prison costs and control inmate population growth in Oklahoma.