The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

August 4, 2013

It’s time for Oklahoma Legislature to do something about overcrowded prisons

ENID, Okla. — Jail overcrowding has been an issue in Oklahoma for many years.

A few years ago, Oklahoma State Department of Health was threatening to close county jails across the state because many of the structures were old and held too many inmates. Garfield County’s jail atop the courthouse was one of those targeted.

As a result, county voters approved a sales tax to build a new jail. The facility, Garfield County Detention Facility, is accredited by American Correctional Association for 198 beds. State standards, though, allow for a few more beds.

But, in July, the jail had an average daily population of 285 inmates.

The problem appears to be repeat offenders and Oklahoma Department of Corrections, which is keeping many of its inmates in county jails because it doesn’t have room for them in prisons.

DOC does pay counties $27 a day per prisoner. But, according to Garfield County Sheriff Jerry Niles, it would cost DOC more to house those inmates in prisons. So, DOC is saving money by keeping its inmates in county jails, but at the expense of county taxpayers.

A big part of the problem is the Oklahoma Legislature, which can’t seem to figure out what to do about the DOC issue.

There’s been plenty of talk, but precious little action. There’s been talk about how to slow the flow of people into prisons, through alternative measures, such as community sentencing and drug courts. There’s been talk about building more prisons, or housing more inmates in private prisons.

At one point in the 1970s and 1980s, Oklahoma prisons were under federal court oversight after an inmate sued over conditions. No one believes we want that to happen again.

In our opinion, the time for talk is over.

It’s time for the Legislature to figure out what it wants to do about it and do it.

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