NORMAN — Citing COVID-19 costs, the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office is asking local governments that use its jail to increase reimbursement costs for detainees by more than a third.
The Sheriff’s Office is asking governments to increase the reimbursement cost to $71.86 for every 24 hours a detainee its law enforcement officials arrest is held in the jail. It’s a 38.5% increase from the previous rate of $52.
These expenses are typically paid by the detainees who incur the costs, Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman explained.
The Norman City Council unanimously approved the increase Tuesday. As of Thursday afternoon, Moore and McClain County had also agreed to the increase, sheriff’s spokesperson Mendi Brandon said.
Norman Police Chief Kevin Foster at the Tuesday meeting said the increase is because of the rising cost of materials and labor and fewer detainees coming into the jail.
“It doesn’t really surprise me that costs of incarceration are going up, because we know that there’s a severe workforce shortage, we know that there’s inflation, that the cost of food is going up, that the cost of goods and services are overall going up,” Balkman said.
Foster said the cost of holding detainees is expected to go down in 2022.
In her email to The Transcript, Brandon said about 55% of all people brought to the jail struggle with mental health, substance abuse and “significantly higher instances of chronic health issues.”
She said it’s important for the sheriff’s office to care for their needs and make all possible resources possible to help them leave the jail “in a better place in their life than when they arrived.”
“We are required to do the best job we possibly can for the people in our care,” Brandon said, adding that “there is obviously a substantial cost associated with that.”
When asked how many detainees the jail holds for failure to pay fines and costs, Brandon said very few prisoners arrested by Norman police have this charge. If they do, it’s because they’re sitting out city tickets they’ve avoided paying, she said.
However, Balkman said these kinds of charges occasionally keep people in the jail after he’s addressed other, more serious charges.
“There will be times when I have an individual who’s on my docket that I have for some type of felony crime. They work out a deal, a plea deal, that essentially, they plead guilty to the crime, their sentence is the days they’ve already served in jail, and usually, I would check the box that says, ‘Defendant is released,’ because they’ve served their time, they’re released. and then I’m told, ‘Well, there’s a hold, the City of Norman has a hold on them. They can’t be released,’” he said.
“We do release an awful lot of folks with a ticket in hand and a notice to appear in court,” Pyle said at the Tuesday meeting. “If a judge says ‘you’ve got to go’ then you’ve got to go, but we release a lot of folks on docket to avoid that expense.”
Norman Police Department spokesperson Sarah Jensen said the reimbursement costs “will not have an effect” on how the department operates.
While Balkman said reimbursement costs are usually paid by detainees, Pyle said the city will still look at budgeted resources to see where it can save money when it comes to this expense.
He said he does not want to have to reach out to the council for money to pay it.