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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — On Monday afternoon the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) held a special meeting to discuss recommendations regarding a potential new Jail facility.

The recommendations were sent to the Trust from the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC).

John Semtner and Leslie Batchelor were present on behalf of the consulting group hired to study the current jail and find solutions for the severely dysfunctional facility.

Most public comments were aligned against building a new jail and especially using the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) to fund construction. Still, other members of the public shared their support for the recommendations. The recommendations were passed by a unanimous vote of the Trust.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

Public Comment

As has become custom at Jail Trust meetings since Jim Couch took over as Chair, public comment was held at the beginning of the Trust’s agenda.

Some local activists were skeptical about the recommendations.

Mark Faulk argued that a bigger Jail facility won’t combat overcrowding, but instead provide more room to incarcerate more people. Faulk emphasized that other solutions are needed in our community. He listed mental health, substance use, and homelessness as issues needing to be prioritized over the Jail, adding that CJAC has always stated that its purpose was to reduce incarceration, but that this set of recommendations don’t do that.

Sean Cummings, local restaurateur and political activist, also shared misgivings, including a general lack of trust in this public body. He quoted Trust member Commissioner Kevin Calvey as having said of the Jail, “This is a management problem, not a money problem.”

jail trust
The full membership of the Jail Trust 11-15-21. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

Calvey, as usual, refused to look at most of the speakers at Monday’s meeting.

Conversely, Joy Turner with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, said that her organization has been looking at problems with the Jail for years and that their office’s opinion is that building a new facility is the only way to go.

Likewise, dedicated local activist and law student Jess Eddy, who served on the facilities subcommittee chaired by Dan Straughan and Sue Ann Arnall, reluctantly supported the recommendations.

Eddy said that as an abolitionist, he was ambivalent about the recommendations. However, he said, in leaving aside his ideology, he would rather center on the very vulnerable people who are victimized by being held in such terrible and deadly conditions.

Eddy called on the Board, and on residents of this county, to focus pressure on DA David Prater and Presiding District Judge Ray Elliott, as they are the architects of crowding the Jail.

Presentation

Semtner and Batchelor’s presentation took only a few minutes, as Semtner in particular has presented information on this project many times over the past several months.

Many of the improvements that Semtner explained about building a new facility, have largely to do with not making the mistakes of the past. The existing Jail facility was built with far too many deficiencies to be corrected, according to many stakeholders

Semtner said that a major goal of the new facility would be to have diversion programs baked into intake at the Jail, so that as many people as possible would be able to avoid a cell.

Sheriff Tommie Johnson, III shared his support for that specific idea, saying that as an officer there is a need to have a place to take people who are in duress from mental health or substance abuse disorders.

Commissioner Calvey agreed, adding that he would build the new jail bigger if it were up to him.

Loretta Radford, the newest member of the Trust, said that she has been touring the current Jail for years, and that she believes a new jail facility is necessary.

Radford added that it is the responsibility of all of us in the community to push for aggressive reforms in the municipalities and at the county level that keeps this Jail full of people.

The Trust then voted unanimously to send the recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners. The building and funding of a new jail facility is ultimately not within the power of the Jail Trust. Instead, the Budget Board and County Commissioners, as the elected officials of the County, will have to make the policies governing the building of any new Jail.

The Jail Trust does not, as yet, have a meeting set for the month of December.

The County Commissioners will meet on December 6 at 9:00 a.m., though as of press time there is no determination as to whether they will hear these recommendations at that meeting.


Last Updated November 29, 2021, 5:14 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor