A shift is underway within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.
County inmates are now heading into D.O.C. custody, in an attempt to save the department several million dollars. Sheriffs fear it could bankrupt counties.
In January, Robert Patton took over as Director for the Department of Corrections. Part of his job is not to create the budget, but work within it. But Patton's latest budget decision has some county sheriffs on edge.
"We're asking staff to do a lot, but the long term benefits could be tremendous," said Dept. of Corrections Director Robert Patton.
Long term benefits, but a short term strain.
"Corrections staff are working hard," said Patton.
Patton is asking all of his staff to do a little extra while the department empties county jails of state inmates. In some cases, an inmate has been with the county up to six months. Because of the move the state's reception office now sees close to 100 prisoners per week up from just 35.
"We're opening up those community centers, work centers and getting those beds filled," said Patton.
Those facilities along with state prisons are where the inmates will end up. Patton says it's a cost effective move saving the DOC up to $17 million.
"County jails are the best bargain the D.O.C. has," said Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel.
Whetsel says he feels blindsided by Patton's decision and he's not the only one.
"What really frustrates me is the director has not met with the sheriffs. We've been finding this out through the news media. That's no way to do business," said Sheriff Whetsel.
The DOC pays county jails between $27-$35 per inmate. Once those inmates are removed so are the funds. Sheriff Whestel estimates that could mean around $5 million for his jail.
"Continue to work with the sheriff's, but don't bankrupt sheriff's across the state," said Sheriff Whetsel.
The D.O.C has already removed 150 prisoners from the Cleveland County jail. And Patton plans to continue to empty other county jails and put those inmates in appropriate state beds.