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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) – Oklahoma County voters will have the final say on whether to approve or reject a $260 million bond proposal to fund a new Oklahoma County Jail in the upcoming June 28 primary election.

The bond vote is the final step in the long and exhaustive process of addressing the long-time problems of the Oklahoma County Jail. 

If passed, the proposed bond package would grant the county $260 million in bonds to partially cover the projected cost of $300 million for the new facility. The proposal seeks to extend existing bonds that are set to expire next year. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, revenue-based bonds and existing revenue will likely be used to finance the difference, according to Timothy Tardibono, Executive Director of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC)

In an interview with the Free Press, Tardibono said this may be the last chance to solve this decades-long issue without raising taxes and avoiding federal intervention. 

CJAC
L-R, Dan Straughan, OKC Homeless Alliance; Timothy Tardibono, executive director; and, Clay Bennett, chair of CJAC at a meeting in late 2021. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“This is a real unique opportunity to do this without any sales tax increase,” Tardibono said. “Frankly, for the last 20 years as we’ve been trying to solve this problem we’ve never had a package put together like this.” 

And, one southside Democratic legislator came out in support of building a new jail Wednesday, the day before early voting begins.

Rep. Forrest Bennett publicly announced his support for the proposal with a twitter thread addressing some hesitations voters may have about the bond. Here is the top of the thread:

Proposal

In November, a subcommittee of CJAC made a list of final recommendations for the proposed new facility that would replace the current County Jail. 

The proposals are that the new jail would:

  • Be built within 10 miles of the County courthouse in a different location from the current facility. 
  • Include a mental health and medical wing 
  • Increase capacity to 1,800 detainees (as opposed to the 1,200 capacity of the current facility) 
  • Require land acquisition 
  • Security-level-appropriate housing (minimum, medium and maximum levels)
  • Modern design that would require less staff
  • Create a citizens’ oversight committee 

“The problem with a 13-story jail, the way we have it, is that staffing is intensive,” Tardibono said. “You’re really not going to be able to reduce staff until you reduce the footprint of the tall building into one story.” 

This is a presentation slide deck used in the CJAC, Jail Trust, and Board of County Commissioners meetings that contains data but also some renderings of what the three different levels of security areas could look like:

CJAC_Detention_Center_Facility_Consultant_2021_11_18_Final

Community Concerns 

Several concerns with the bond and the new facility have been raised by local activists in the community. The vagueness in the proposal’s language, mismanagement of the current jail, and the “up to 10 percent interest rate” clause in the proposition are some major reasons why opponents say they will vote against it.  

“For starters, it’s a very vague and poorly written proposal,” said local activist, Mark Faulk. “There are no details there. The only thing that it does tell us is that we could pay up to 10 percent interest for 30 years.”

Jail Trust
Adriana Laws, (left) and Mark Faulk shout at the Jail Trust Chair, Tricia Everest during a Jail Trust meeting in October 2020 . (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

As of now, many details in the proposal are still unknown, such as the site location, completion date, and the actual cost of the building. The lack of specifics is another major reason why the proposal is facing opposition. 

According to Faulk, with a 10 percent interest factored into the equation, the $260 million bond could end up costing taxpayers over a billion dollars. 

Faulk also said that he is “strongly opposed” to building a bigger jail facility because it typically increases incarceration rates. 

Sean Cummings, councilmember of The Village and activist, said in an interview with the Free Press that the long-standing issues are separate from whether to build a new brick and mortar building. 

Sean Cummings
Sean Cummings, OKC restaurateur, argues a point at the Oklahoma County Jail Trust meeting August 24, 2020. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“Let me ask you this. Did the building cause bed bugs? Did the building cause mold? Did the building cause people to commit suicide? Did the building cause guards to beat people?” Cummings said. “Because the building didn’t cause any of that. The people there did.” 

According to a 2021 study by the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-partisan criminal justice research group, “Oklahoma has an incarceration rate of 993 per 100,000 people (including jails, prisons, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities) meaning that it locks up more people than any democracy on earth.”

Jail Conditions 

It’s widely known that the problems plaguing the Oklahoma County Jail have been on-going almost since its inception in 1991, especially when it comes to jail deaths. There have been eight reported deaths in the jail this year. 

Earlier this month, the state health department released a 58-page inspection report outlining a list of safety and health concerns, including a bedbug infestation, black mold, and insufficient lighting are only a few of the issues mentioned in the report. 

The 13-floor layout, poor initial construction and bad interior design mean that any staff shortages on any given shift can lead to problems and even deaths.

One such short-staff situation was a hostage situation where an entire floor of detainees overwhelmed a few detention officers and held one detention officer hostage. Oklahoma City Police were called in to handle the situation and eventually killed the detainee who was holding the officer hostage.

hostage
EMSA trucks leave the Oklahoma County Jail on their way to the hospital with the hostage who lived and the suspected hostage-taker who was shot and killed by police March 27, 2021 (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Voting Information

Early voting for the primary election will be held:

  • Thursday, June 23, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Friday, June 24, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 25, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Election Day for primaries and this vote will be Tuesday, June 28 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. at your local precinct.
Look on the state Voter Portal to find your particular voting information and a sample ballot.

Last Updated June 23, 2022, 7:57 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor