By Conrad Dudderar
EL RENO – Canadian County is calling for a state audit in an effort to increase the amount that the state Department of Corrections gives to keep prisoners at the county jail before they are transferred to state custody.
DOC pays the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office a daily rate of $27 to hold each convict who has been sentenced in Canadian County District Court and awaits transfer to prison.
“DOC is required to reimburse the counties for any inmates who are sentenced to DOC,” Canadian County Undersheriff Kevin Ward said. “But the counties hold them until DOC has us deliver them to LARC (Lexington Assessment and Reception Center).
“Currently, that rate is capped at $27 a day. However, the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits any ad valorem tax from being used to pay any of those costs. We’re arguing our cost is about $40 a day.”
The $27 daily rate was established by the Oklahoma Legislature “years ago” and has “stayed stagnant,” Ward pointed out.
Canadian County Commissioners have engaged the State Auditor & Inspector to review the calculations of the Canadian County Jail’s inmate incarceration rates for fiscal years 2021 and 2022.
That action was approved by a 3-0 vote during the commissioners’ weekly meeting Monday morning.
“It has ended up at the State Auditor’s Office because the Department of Corrections is wanting to fight what that amount is,” Ward explained. “So, the auditor now needs to perform an audit to see if the rate we’re saying it costs ($40 a day) is an accurate rate.”
The average wait is from one to two months before convicts are moved from the Canadian County Jail to a DOC facility to serve their sentence, according to Ward.
On March 20, the Canadian County Jail was holding 35 inmates who have already been sentenced but still must be moved to DOC’s Lexington center. That was about 6.3% of the total inmate population.
“Once you get up to about 10% of your capacity, (DOC officials) try and start pulling them,” Ward explained. “They rarely get you down to 0. It’s a management thing with all 77 counties and the influx that they’re trying to control.”
PAYING THE COST
Canadian County will pay the cost of the special inmate incarceration rate audit, County Commission Chairman Dave Anderson noted.
District 3 Commissioner Tracey Rider questioned whether the county would be reimbursed that expense if the auditor’s office finds that DOC must pay the $40 daily rate to Canadian County.
Assistant District Attorney Tommy Humphries didn’t have the answer –yet.
“This is new, and no one has successfully been adjusted,” Humphries added.
Tulsa County was the first county in Oklahoma to challenge the $27 inmate incarceration rate. Canadian County is the second that is seeking an increase.
“We did an independent cost analysis where we determined that it was around $40 a day,” Chairman Anderson said. “We actually did some accounting and some work to come up with that number.”
Each January, the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office sets a daily rate for inmates housed at the county jail awaiting adjudication. District court judges then assess that amount to inmates who stay in the county’s detention center.
Sheriffs across Oklahoma are trying to come up with a formula that all 77 counties could use, Undersheriff Ward noted.
“Right now, there’s probably 77 different formulas of how we’re calculating the daily rate,” he told commissioners.