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Tulsa County seeks $9 million from state Department of Corrections

Nov 17, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

Tulsa County says the Oklahoma Department of Corrections owes it $9 million, and is going to court to get it. County commissioners voted Monday to join the Sheriff’s Department and the Tulsa jail authority in legal action to recover additional reimbursement from the DOC for state prisoners held in the county jail. “Local taxpayers are subsidizing DOC,” County Commission Chairman John Smaligo said Monday following the board meeting. “The courts have ruled that we cannot use local tax dollars for state prisoners.” The jail authority is expected to act on the matter Friday. Tulsa County’s action is the result of a Bryan County lawsuit to force the state to pay at least the cost of housing state prisoners awaiting transport to state facilities. Lower courts ruled in Bryan County’s favor, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

By RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, November 16, 2015 11:07 am

Tulsa County says the Oklahoma Department of Corrections owes it $9 million, and is going to court to get it.

County commissioners voted Monday to join the Sheriff’s Department and the Tulsa jail authority in legal action to recover additional reimbursement from the DOC for state prisoners held in the county jail.

“Local taxpayers are subsidizing DOC,” County Commission Chairman John Smaligo said Monday following the board meeting. “The courts have ruled that we cannot use local tax dollars for state prisoners.”

The jail authority is expected to act on the matter Friday.

Tulsa County’s action is the result of a Bryan County lawsuit to force the state to pay at least the cost of housing state prisoners awaiting transport to state facilities.

Lower courts ruled in Bryan County’s favor, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

State statute sets the rate at $27 per prisoners per day, but Tulsa County says its costs are twice that. It wants $9 million in charges it billed the state that weren’t paid, and a rate of $55 going forward.

“We’re not trying to get something out of nothing,” Smaligo said, noting an independent study commissioned by the Sheriff’s Department determined $55 is the break-even amount for the jail.

Taking anything less than that, Smaligo said, would mean the county is shouldering some of the state’s expense, which is contrary to the Bryan County decision.

“There is a possibility that DOC will say our formula is flawed, and it’s something we have to prove out in court, but we have a lot of confidence in it,” Smaligo said.

The state and the counties have argued for years over prisoner reimbursements. Counties complain the $27 rate is too low, while the DOC counters that jails routinely run up reimbursement tabs by keeping prisoners for weeks, months or even years without notifying the department.

Legislation standardizing the procedure by which prisoners are transferred from county jails to the DOC was recently enacted.

The DOC said it was unaware of Tulsa County’s intentions and had no immediate comment.

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