CORRECTIONS officials seeking more money during special session

Monday, August 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Officials with the state Corrections Department want lawmakers to appropriate an additional $62 million in funding during next month's special legislative session.

David Miller, chief of administrative operations for the department, said half the money is needed to pay the contracts already made with private prisons. About $8 million would go to private prisons, while another $4.8 million would be used to hire more prison guards.

Miller said the department also needs about $8.9 million to pay for inmate medical care. The Corrections Department says it will run out of money for pharmaceuticals and hospital care by January.

The department's requests, however, may go unanswered by lawmakers.

Sen. Dick Wilkerson, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that funds corrections and public safety, said it the Corrections Department may not need more money to get through the fiscal year since the prison population appears to be declining.

``Corrections didn't get a special appropriation last summer, and they did fine,'' said Wilkerson, D-Atwood. ``They are wanting to hire more people. We have increased the pay for guards and have yet to see that they have filled those spaces.''

The Senate staff attributes a projected decline in the prison population to changes in state laws and an increase in the number of parolees.

Despite the changes, Miller said the agency expects the population to hover around 22,500 during the next fiscal year.

Rep. James Dunegan, D-Calera, said it is time to give the Corrections Department the money it needs for a full year. Dunegan, chairman of the House subcommittee on corrections funding, said corrections officials cannot do their jobs when they don't get enough money.

Gov. Frank Keating, who sets the agenda of the special session, has indicated he will not add Corrections Department funding.

``At the moment, we're sticking with the agenda as it is _ the tax debate, not taxing rebates and congressional redistricting,'' said John Cox, Keating's press secretary.

``We're certainly sensitive to the Department of Corrections concerns,'' Cox said. ``It is just a matter of whether it needs to be done this early _ in special session _ or in the regular session.''