County inmates will soon move to state prisons. When we first brought you that story last week, sheriffs seemed to be blind-sided and upset by the news. Now several sheriffs have met with the state Department of Corrections.
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel described the move as a surprise and could leave counties bankrupt. The Department of Corrections sees it as cost effective. But the strain for sheriffs across the state is just beginning.
"What was your original reaction? Disaster. Really? Yeah, we immediately started looking at what we can do if it happens," said McClain County Sheriff Don Hewett.
$120,000 a year, or as McClain County Sheriff Don Hewett thinks of it, one sixth of his total budget will be gone if the DOC removes inmates from his jail.
A decision Hewett didn't even know about until he spoke with other sheriffs who are trying to balancing their budgets.
"It's a tough juggling act and this made it worse," said Hewett.
So to get clarity on the issue several sheriffs met with the DOC on Tuesday. The message was point blank.
"It's going to happen, it's done, prepare for it," said Hewett.
DOC Director Robert Patton told News 9 last week the move is being made because it could save his department up to $17 million.
"It was a management decision. They had to do what they had to do," said Hewett.
Sheriff Hewett is trying to do what he can do, with the probability of losing just about the only state funding sheriffs receive in a roundabout way. In his mind, there's only one guarantee for McClain County.
"Their safety, that level of coverage will remain the same," said Hewett.
While at the same time, there's also one hope.
"We're trying to cope with it and trying to manage what we can, the last thing we want to do is layoffs. Layoffs hurt families," said Hewett.
Sheriffs and The Oklahoma Sheriffs Association still plan to fight for inmates. They will meet with legislators Tuesday at the capitol.