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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) was informed Monday about the current status of COVID in the Oklahoma County Detention Center (Jail). 

Increases in jail COVID numbers reflect the recent rise in cases statewide and included positive cases among staff and detainees.

The Trust also discussed the realities of compliance with a recent letter from the State Department of Health that declared the Jail an inappropriate place to house juveniles.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

COVID Details

Along with the usual routine reporting, Jail Trust CEO and Jail Administrator Greg Williams gave a COVID update, as case numbers are again rising across the state and much of the world.

In the last ten days seven detention center employees have tested positive for COVID. Williams did not supply information on the vaccination status of those employees.

Williams said that currently there are 29 detainees who have tested positive for COVID. Those detainees are being quarantined, many on the 13th floor of the Jail. The 13th floor is being entirely quarantined currently, according to Williams.

In an effort to contain and manage the infection outbreak, employees are required to wear masks and all detainees are offered masks constantly. Hand-washing protocols are in place, according to Williams.

Every person brought into the Jail is offered a vaccine at intake. Additionally, the medical staff makes visits to each pod to offer vaccines, creating a weekly vaccine clinic, of sorts. Williams said that many people refuse the vaccine. All three vaccine options are available for detainees.

Williams claims that testing has not slowed down.

Quarantine process

Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu pressed Williams on his depiction of quarantines in the Jail. 

Williams admitted that some people with positive results are quarantined in their cells with cell mates. He said that for operational purposes, the assumption is that if one cell mate is infected, so are the others.

Ekwerekwu said that while that practice may make operational sense, it ignores the value of human life.

Ekwerekwu also asked Williams what actions were being taken to relieve the burden of “triple ceiling,” the practice of keeping three persons in a cell instead of only two. The cells are built with two bunks. A third person added to a cell sleeps on a plastic sled placed on the floor. 

Triple celling has been necessary in the Jail for quite some time, as some cell pods were in disrepair and the population has grown beyond the actual capacity of the Jail.

Williams explained to Ekwerekwu and other Trustees that three whole pods have been repaired and are ready to open up for detainees, but supplies from vendors are holding up the process somewhat. Williams said the Jail received 300 mattresses for those pods over the weekend, and move-ins should begin soon.

Juvenile Incarceration

A recent report and accompanying letter from the State Department of Health listed over 30 deficiencies in health and safety practices in the Jail. Williams said that staff is currently addressing those deficiencies, and preparing their required response, which is due within 60 days of receipt of the Health Department’s report.

To learn more: State Health Department decertifies Oklahoma County Jail to hold juveniles

That report dictated that the Jail should not be a holding site for juveniles involved in the criminal legal system in Oklahoma County.

In response, last week the Jail transferred the one juvenile who had charges less than Murder 1 to the juvenile detention center and stopped taking legally-classified juveniles immediately. Current statutes dictate that juveniles with a First Degree Murder charge are classified as adults and held at higher security facilities.

After the transfer, the Jail still holds 11 youthful offenders who have been charged with Murder 1. Williams mentioned speaking to the administrators of Cleveland County Jail to see what sort of space they have for juveniles. Only about 50 jails in the state are certified to also hold juveniles.

There was some confusion in the meeting about the current state of law governing the incarceration of juveniles. Williams and others, including Trust general counsel John Michael Williams, were scheduled to have a meeting after the Trust to learn what options are available for housing juvenile suspects appropriately.

A request for the current Jail population was not answered by press time.

Public Comment

For the second meeting in a row, time for Public Comment was held at the very beginning of the meeting. 

Most of those who signed up to address the Trust argued that Public Comment wasn’t meaningful without hearing discussion on the separate items of the Trust’s agenda.

One member of the public who signed up for comment was the familiar Michael Washington. Mr. Washington has filed suit against the Trust naming each member and including former chair Tricia Everest. 

For Washington’s comments, he turned his back on the Trustees and addressed the audience gathered in the boardroom. From there he excoriated the Trust as a whole, claiming that it would be brought to its knees soon.

Another member of the public, Duron Wise, suggested that the Trust vote down an item on their consent docket. That item was a renewal of contracts with 16 county municipalities to house their arrestees at the Jail. Wise said that most people being arrested in places like Nicoma Park and Spencer need resources, not arrests.

Throughout public comment, Trustee and County Commissioner Kevin Clavey gazed down at his lap as members of the community addressed the Trust.

The Jail Trust will meet again on August 16 at 1:00 p.m. The Detention Center Action Committee, a recommending subcommittee of the Trust, is scheduled to meet on August 2 at 1:00 p.m.

Last Updated August 10, 2021, 2:28 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor