County to bill DOC $9 million to cover cost of housing state inmates in Tulsa Jail

The $9 million figure represents the difference between what the county has billed DOC to hold state inmates and what DOC actually paid, since July 2012.

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Tulsa County commissioners on Thursday voted to bill the Department of Corrections nearly $9 million to cover the cost of housing inmates in the Tulsa Jail since July 2012.

The $9 million figure represents the difference between what the county has billed DOC to hold state inmates and what DOC actually paid.

The vote comes after the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that found that the state cannot cap what DOC pays counties to hold its inmates if the actual cost is higher

“What has been happening is the state of Oklahoma has been raiding the county treasury to pay for its state penitentiary and the Supreme Court says you can’t do that,” Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Doug Wilson told commissioners before their vote.

DOC pays counties $27 per inmate per day to hold DOC inmates awaiting transfer into the state prison system after being convicted of a crime.

The rate is set by the state Legislature.

Since July 1, 2012, Tulsa County has been charging DOC $55.81 per inmate per day to house state inmates in the Tulsa Jail. A study by MGT of America Inc. found that it costs $64.13 a day to hold an inmate in the Tulsa Jail.

The number was adjusted to $55.81 for DOC inmates because they do not receive some services provided to other inmates at the jail, Wilson said.

To get to his $9 million figure, Wilson subtracted the $27.00 per inmate per day DOC has been paying the county from the $55.81 per inmate per day it was charging DOC, leaving a difference of $28.81.

He then multiplied that amount by 305,256 — the number of days DOC inmates stayed in the Tulsa Jail since July 1, 2012.

The total comes to $8,794,425.

Wilson told commissioners that when DOC receives its bills from Tulsa County, it “always crosses out the $55.81” and replaces it with $27.00.

Commissioner Karen Keith said the state, which is anticipating a huge revenue shortfall next fiscal year, needs to come up with the money to pay DOC’s past-due bills.

“The Legislature needs to figure that out,” Keith said. “I think we bill them. They need to rescind the upcoming (income) tax cut and pay their bills.”

The state’s top income tax rate is scheduled to drop to 5 percent from 5.25 percent in 2016.

DOC spokeswoman Alex Gerszewski said the department will decide how to respond to the county’s bill after it has had a chance to review it. DOC has been told to prepare a flat budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Gerszewski said.

“We don’t have $9 million to just shell out like that,” he said.

The Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County filed a motion in Oklahoma County District Court in 2012 asking the court to rule on the constitutionality of the state statute setting the DOC rate at no more than $27 per inmate per day.

The petition noted that the attorney general’s office had issued an opinion that such a rate would be “unconstitutional as applied as it would force counties to expend county funds for clear state purposes.”

The AG opinion goes on to say that in such cases, the Oklahoma Constitution would require DOC to pay the actual cost to hold state inmates in county jails, according to the petition.

The case went all the way to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which ruled in Bryan County’s favor. The state Supreme Court then declined to review the case.

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