By Megan Sando
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Prisons and Oklahoma go together like feet and shoes.
Oklahoma’s prison population has increased steadily in the last few decades. A study released Thursday shows Oklahoma incarcerates 648 residents per 100,000 population, trailing only Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in imprisonment rates. The state has more women in prison — 127 per 100,000 residents — than any other state.
The Department of Corrections is operating at 98 percent capacity. It farms out inmates to private prisons, including the Corrections Corp. of America facility in Cushing.
The state agency also leaves convicted criminals in county jails longer and longer before transferring them into state or private prisons.
That decision has caused jail overcrowding in some Oklahoma counties, including Tulsa County.
Earlier this month, Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz sued the Department of Corrections and Director Justin Jones. Glanz is asking the state court system to force the Department of Corrections to take its prisoners from the county lockup, which has been overcrowded for 122 days.
Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said 1,700 inmates are in county jails statewide waiting for space to open in the prison system. The number is up 200 from this time in 2012.
“There is a fairly sizable backlog in county jails,” he said.
The state backlog isn’t affecting the Payne County Jail, Payne County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Kevin Woodward said.
Payne County expanded its jail a few years ago. It has a 404 inmate capacity. Approximately 160 inmates are in the county jail, Sheriff R.B. Hauf said.
“Luckily we are far from capacity,” he said.
State health codes determine a jail’s capacity, Woodward said.
Jails must dedicate 40 square feet of space for the first inmate and an additional 20 square feet for a second inmate in the same cell, according to state statute.
Sometimes, the cell space cannot be filled because of medical conditions or housing females, who must be incarcerated away from the male inmate population.
Payne County has experienced that problem from time to time, Woodward said.
Convicted criminals can wait from 45 days to six months or more in county jails for prison space to open, Massie said.
An inmate is deemed ready for state prison once the Department of Corrections receives the judgment and sentencing information. Until the transfer is completed, the state pays county sheriff’s offices up to $27 a day plus medical expenses to house inmates.
The state is more likely to accept convicted criminals with short sentences — two or fewer years — or delayed sentences first because they move through the Department of Correction’s system more quickly, Massie said.
“We will work with people with medical problems or people who are high security,” Massie said.
How will the Department of Corrections relieve prison overcrowding?
Friday, the agency’s Board decided to re-open a cell block at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester and contracted with the private prison in Cushing to hold more state prisoners.