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By Traci Chapman
More than 2,000 prisoners were jailed outside the county last year, as officials work to push along a 120-bed jail addition.
Documentation compiled by the Canadian County Sheriff’s Office showed deputies drove 1,747 prisoners to Pottawatomie County in 2012, with another 354 inmates taken for temporary housing in Grant and Dewey counties. “Long-term” prisoners have been housed outside in those jails since state officials in 2010 cracked down on overcrowding at Canadian County Jail. In 2012, transportation costs for that housing topped $24,780.
Built in 1984, the county jail can house a maximum of 72 prisoners. As commissioners struggled with two failed elections and attempted to find an answer to persistent jail overcrowding, sheriffs in first Grant and Dewey, then Pottawatomie, counties worked with Sheriff Randall Edwards to strike contracts to house overflow prisoners.
With a $4.8 million plan in construction, Commissioners David Anderson and Jack Stewart led a drive to include some funding for the project, as well as prisoner out-of-county housing, in county budgets. For fiscal year 2013, $511,000 was included in the county general fund to pay those counties, at a rate of $20 per prisoner per day. While that will help defray the amount the county must borrow to complete the jail addition, more funds would be necessary to pay for transportation of prisoners, Edwards said.
“It’s obviously not a cost we want to have, but it’s a necessary evil, if you will,” Edwards said. “It’s a lot better alternative than not having the space.”
After sending prisoners to Dewey County for about two years, remodeling at that county jail put an end to that contract in April 2012, Undersheriff Chris West said. Throughout 2012, fuel costs for the 57 trips taken to Grant and Dewey counties cost about $3,456, with the 100 trips taken to Pottawatomie County adding about $4,283 in fuel expense.
Personnel expenses for those 157 trips topped $17,043 in 2012. Dewey County Jail is located in Taloga, a 178-mile round trip, while Grant County’s jail in Medford is a 191-mile trek. It is about 130 miles round-trip between Canadian County and Pottawatomie County jails. Officials calculated four hours per trip to Grant and Dewey counties and two hours per run to Pottawatomie County.
While officials mourned the loss of funds needed to house prisoners outside Canadian County, one purchase eased the pain, West said. Two buses purchased for prisoner transportation had saved about $6,915 in fuel and personnel costs, he said.
“Plus you have to figure the miles on the cars and the increased maintenance – you’re talking about the shorter lifespan of a patrol car,” West said.
Once prisoners are housed back in Canadian County, the buses would still be useful for times the county had to run prisoners to the Department of Corrections or to other jurisdictions or when prisoners could be involved doing labor for other county departments or other entities.
“The buses won’t sit idle – we’ll make sure we get our use out of them,” Edwards said.