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Board of Corrections OKs higher budget request, discusses interest in new property

Nov 17, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

The Oklahoma Board of Corrections on Thursday approved a fiscal year 2017 budget request that includes a $17 million allocation to handle a surge in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ inmate population. DOC Director of Communications Terri Watkins said during Thursday’s Board of Corrections meeting that the request to the Legislature for the 2017 fiscal year is “a budget that reflects our needs.” The DOC received about $485 million in appropriations for fiscal year 2016 and is asking for just under $505 million for the next year. The request for a bigger budget includes the $17 million for “offender growth” and $2.3 million for health services. Watkins said the DOC has faced an inmate population increase going into 2016 after a new law took effect this week requiring that counties submit to the prison system judgment and sentencing reports for inmates within three days of their sentencing.

By SAMANTHA VICENT World Staff Writer | Posted: Friday, November 6, 2015 12:00 am

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Board of Corrections on Thursday approved a fiscal year 2017 budget request that includes a $17 million allocation to handle a surge in the Oklahoma Department of Corrections’ inmate population.

DOC Director of Communications Terri Watkins said during Thursday’s Board of Corrections meeting that the request to the Legislature for the 2017 fiscal year is “a budget that reflects our needs.”

The DOC received about $485 million in appropriations for fiscal year 2016 and is asking for just under $505 million for the next year.

The request for a bigger budget includes the $17 million for “offender growth” and $2.3 million for health services. Watkins said the DOC has faced an inmate population increase going into 2016 after a new law took effect this week requiring that counties submit to the prison system judgment and sentencing reports for inmates within three days of their sentencing.

Before the law took effect, she said, many inmates would sit in county jails for up to a year or longer without the DOC’s knowledge.

Ashlee Clemmons, chief administrator of business services for the DOC, said Thursday that 837 people are backed up in county jails as of 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“When you talk a flat budget with the DOC, you’re talking a budget decrease,” Watkins said. “Medical costs go up, transportation costs go up, and the infrastructure in the buildings continues to deteriorate.”

Board of Corrections member Frazier Henke said the board was “certainly mindful” of the challenges the state faces regarding the ability to allocate funds, but he said the amount of people sentenced to spend time in DOC custody is “outside of our control.”

“We have a constitutional obligation to accommodate offenders that come into our system,” Henke said. “And the health costs … it’s critical that the department receives appropriations to cover those expenses.”

Two DOC facilities are facing infrastructure issues, according to officials: Lexington Assessment and Reception Center in Oklahoma City and William S. Key Correctional Center in Fort Supply. A boiler recently failed at LARC, leaving a minimum-security unit without hot water.

“I have declared an emergency to authorize the replacement of this boiler,” DOC Director Robert Patton said, adding that it will cost $46,000. Repairing the boiler was no longer an option because of its condition, he said.

An addendum to the fiscal year 2017 budget request states that the western Oklahoma facility, a minimum-security prison, has “several major maintenance issues” due to the age of the building. Watkins said the electrical distribution infrastructure needs work but that it has not yet been determined whether repairs can proceed while inmates live there.

The addendum said repair costs for all items at the facility are between $4 million and $6 million. The addendum requests are not included in the total request, but rather are for the Legislature to look at and consider, Clemmons said.

Also on Thursday, Patton discussed the DOC’s interest in the Southern Oklahoma Resource Center in Pauls Valley, an empty facility owned by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. That site housed people with disabilities, and its last resident moved out this summer.

“This new property, with its proximity and existing infrastructure, offers DOC a rare and viable opportunity to expand our infirmary care and offender housing,” said Patton, who toured the facility last month. “It also presents possibilities for consolidation and simplification of other necessary services.”

It’s not yet clear how the DOC intends to use the facility, nor did Patton have a preliminary figure as to how much it would cost to acquire the building and ensure it meets code.

“The goal now is to open communications with (the Office of Management and Enterprise Services), look at the possibilities and the viability of the structure and then move forward,” Watkins said.

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