Oklahoma State Corrections Officials Seeking Additional Funding

Article excerpt

The cycle of supplemental requests for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections continued this week as officials with the agency requested $28.4 million to finish out the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2008.

The request was made as part of budget hearings held by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and Judiciary, and will make up part of an additional $90.3 million being requested for Fiscal Year 2009. Director Justin Jones said the bulk of the supplemental dollars will be used to fund a trended shortfall on beds. He added that it had been at least 10 years since the last time the agency hadn't needed a supplemental appropriation.

"Mainly, it's payroll," Jones explained.

With the agency facing near capacity at its facilities, Jones said the need for additional beds was a necessity. He said an estimated 660 private prison beds were expected to be available at some point, but that it was expected to cost anywhere from a $62 to $68 per diem rate rather than the initially anticipated $58 rate. That change could lead to the $14 million growing significantly for those inmates.

Members of the subcommittee showed concern for the increase and the inability of the state to have any influence on those rates. Jones said the state had the first option of using those beds but said that funding dictated his ability to contract at various rates more than anything.

"Whatever you fund us for is what I'm able to go and negotiate for," Jones said.

The state routinely gets first crack at putting prisoners in private facilities, Jones said, but those options had already been exhausted at the facilities in Sayre and Hinton. He said at this point, the options were to either find enough money to pay for contracted beds through Corrections Corporation of America, build a standalone facility, or to expand at one of the state's current prisons.

"I need new beds, whether I build them or contract for them," Jones said. …