Lawmakers examine county shortfalls

Oklahoma City_Oklahoma county sheriffs continue to suffer financial problems because the state has burden them with paying their criminals' health care costs - and those deficits may ultimately put citizens in danger, said state House Speaker Pro Tempore Gus Blackwell.

Blackwell conducted an interim study today to look at the state's failure to compensate county sheriffs being forced to pay for Department of Corrections inmates' medical costs.

"We need to do everything possible to ensure we lend a helping hand to the county sheriffs not a push that puts them in situations they struggle or can't get out of," said Blackwell, R-Goodwell. "This study is a tool for us to see what areas the legislature can start changing to get county sheriffs back on their feet and better yet back on firm financially sound ground."

The biggest issue of the meeting was the how county sheriffs'

departments are being burdened with DOC's inmates medical costs when the sheriffs are already doing DOC and the state a service by providing inmate lodging.

Garfield County Sheriff Bill Winchester said the inmates are coming in with pre-existing conditions and the counties are stuck with the medical bills.

Winchester said that for the past 20 years DOC took care of their inmates' medical costs but now the counties are responsible for everything unless it is considered emergency care. One of the DOC inmates had a $20,000 bill.

Winchester said his jail budgets $180,000 for medical treatment of inmates; however, due to the state wanting to house more convicts in his jail, the budget has increased by another $50,000 leaving them financially burdened.

Tulsa County Undersheriff Brian Edwards said it affects bigger cities even more.

Edwards said their medical budget has increased by $1 million due to paying DOC inmate medical costs.

Edwards said at any given time they have 140 to 300 DOC inmates and are not making 50 cents on the dollar for lodging them.

Edwards said there are many factors and costs that go into taking care of a sick inmate.

He said inmates have to be accompanied by at least two inmates when going to the hospital, which also increases costs because you have to deal with overtime of the deputy. Also inmates are constantly battling tuberculosis and other illness that are highly contagious that end up costing them.

Several sheriffs also said they have to negotiate with judges to keep low-felony charged individuals out of prison because they have no room with all the DOC inmates they are having to house.

From the office of State Rep. Gus Blackwell