Public Defender Seeks To Expedite Inmate Transfers

Sunday, August 6th 2006, 2:13 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A public defender has filed paperwork to expedite the transfer of hundreds of inmates from the Oklahoma County jail to state custody.

In documents filed Thursday, Oklahoma County Public Defender Bob Ravitz said overcrowding at the jail has reached dangerous levels.

More than 600 state inmates in the county jail await transfer to the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, where all state prisoners are processed. Ravitz said that figure is more than twice what it was less than 18 months ago.

``To some extent, we've been taken advantage of,'' Sheriff John Whetsel said earlier this week. He didn't learn of Ravitz's action until Friday.

Reducing the backlog would cut the jail population to about 2,000 inmates, said Ravitz, who monitors the welfare of county jail inmates.

Corrections officials said 1,410 inmates statewide are waiting to get into Lexington.

The county is supposed to be able to ship about 40 inmates a week to the Corrections Department under the terms of a 2002 agreement, Ravitz said. If that deal was being honored, it would put the backlog at less than 200 inmates in the county jail.

Administrators of the 2,990-inmate capacity jail use the money they are paid to house state and municipal prisoners to cover some of the jail's operating costs. The jail often houses 600 to 700 state inmates a day, but officials need only about 400 of them to meet budget requirements, Whetsel said.

The county makes about $11 million a year for housing non-county prisoners, he said.

``The county jail is not a state prison,'' District 2 Commissioner Brent Rinehart said. ``The county jail is for county inmates.

``Citizens of Oklahoma County should not be footing the bill for state inmates.''

It costs the corrections department $56.98 a day to house a prisoner at a maximum-security state prison, nearly twice the $30 a day county officials are paid to house a prisoner.

It's cheaper to house prisoners in the Oklahoma County jail partly because the jail can't offer recreation or interaction time and other programs, said Mark Myers, sheriff's department spokesman.

During Wednesday's county commissioners meeting, Rinehart suggested suing the Corrections Department to force them to pick up their inmates. Commissioners delayed renewal of the contract the county has with the agency to house state convicts.

District 1 Commissioner Jim Roth said state statutes that allow the department to leave inmates in county jails are causing the problems.

One law allows the agency to choose which inmates it removes from county jails.

Corrections Department spokesman Jerry Massie said the department often considers sentence length when choosing which state prisoners to take from county jails.

``If somebody's got a hundred year sentence, he's not going to be a real big priority unless he presents a serious security risk to that jail,'' Massie said. ``Now, if somebody's got the death sentence, they're going to come in pretty quickly.''