In a 6-2 vote Monday, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority or, Jail Trust, established a new position of Jail Administrator – a separate position from County Sheriff.
Trustees are in the early stages of establishing the position and are not ready to name anyone yet.
This comes after years of suspected and confirmed jail mismanagement by the previous Sheriff, John Whetsel.
Some problems have persisted under the current Sheriff, P.D. Taylor (pictured in the feature photo).
Taylor has been against the idea from the beginning and voted against the measure along with another member.
Trustees were careful to pass a resolution reassuring jail employees that they will keep their benefits.
They also discussed budgets at length and heard a presentation about policies for Juveniles incarcerated in the County Jail.
The Trustees took up an item to discuss and possibly approve a resolution determining that the Authority would take over operation of the Jail by hiring a Jail Administrator.
Sheriff Taylor spoke on this item first, saying that he did not like it. He said that he’s heard a lot of criticism without solutions. He said that he thinks the Trust was rushing to make this decision and that he hoped they would each go to bed this evening knowing they’d done their due diligence.
In contrast, Senator Ben Brown said that he was ready to move forward with hiring an Administrator. He said that in the America that he knows people are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty and that they should be treated that way.
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Former Chief of Police and Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry expressed concern about the wording of the item.
He said that saying the Trust “shall” operate the Jail was too certain and final for his taste. It was pointed out by several members of the Trust that this item simply reflected the agreed-upon language from the Trust’s planning meeting.
Berry said he didn’t want the Trust to act hastily. County Commissioner Kevin Calvey said that he thought there was nothing hasty about this decision since it has been discussed for over a decade.
The Trust voted on the item and it passed 6-2. Trustee Todd Lamb was absent, Berry voted Nay because of his stated concerns, and Taylor voted Nay as well.
Worthy of note is that the Trust and members of the public had not reviewed the resolution prior to the meeting. The legality of the Trust voting on the resolution was discussed and counsellor John Michael Williams said that it was good and fine to vote on the resolution.
A resolution was discussed that would state the value and importance of detention officers and stating the intention to take actions to ensure that the officers would be afforded job security and retirement and health benefits comparable to those they currently enjoy.
Taylor asked the body what “comparable” meant. He said he was concerned that the resolution didn’t simply say “the same.”
Calvey asked Taylor if he would like the language to change. This was followed by approximately ten minutes of discussion among those gathered there about the meaning of “comparable.” It became tedious in the extreme.
The Trustees finally voted. The resolution was passed with only Taylor voting Nay.
Senator Brown brought an item to the agenda regarding incidents in the Jail. He requested a formal streamlining of the process of informing Trustees when something serious happens in the jail. Brown’s reference was to the recent death of a person who was incarcerated at the Jail.
Daryl Clinton was found unresponsive in his cell on Saturday, August 10. He was transported to a hospital where he died that evening. Trustees were informed of this, in Brown’s opinion, inappropriately late.
Recall that in last week’s County Commissioners meeting Commissioner Carrie Blumert said that she only learned of the death of Mr. Clinton from a televised news broadcast on Tuesday, August 13.
Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth (OCCY) Director Annette Jacobi came before the Trust to introduce a presentation on findings and recommendations from the newly established Detaining Youth Task Force. Dr. Ellen Harwell presented those findings and recommendations.
Harwell said that the Task Force identified several policies that were less than ideal. She said that when Juveniles who are incarcerated at the jail turn 18 they are no longer allowed to attend high school classes taught in the jail. She said that the policy of separation of juveniles from the other populations of the jail is akin to solitary confinement.
Harwell said that detention officers aren’t trained to meet the specific needs of juveniles and that this causes some unnecessary tension between officers and the juvenile persons incarcerated there.
The meeting kicked off with
Several former and current public defenders took time off from their jobs to attend the meeting and address the Trustees about their support for hiring a Jail Administrator. Each spoke about poor conditions in the jail.
Lack of access to recreation and hygiene, unsanitary living conditions, and the cost of contacting loved ones were each mentioned by the defenders.
Identifying himself as a Congressional candidate, Dan Belcher addressed the Trustees. He said that he was very much in favor of hiring a Jail Administrator. He blamed Sheriff P.D. Taylor and his predecessor, John Whetsel, for the problems in the jail.
Social Justice Activist Jess Eddy spoke to the Trustees about an item to reassure Jail employees of their security.
Eddy said that good leadership should steer the public to a more moral state of existence. He said that emphasizing the needs of employees of the jail and not the needs of those who are incarcerated in the jail is a misstep.
More Public Comment
During the final agenda item, Jess Eddy returned to the podium to address the Trustees.
Before making his planned comments, he asked the Chair for clarification on the new rules about public comment, specifically asking if he needed to make an argument for the relevance of his comments.
He and Everest discussed the merits of arguing relevance briefly.
Eddy then began to speak to the issue of ICE agents at the Jail. Everest interrupted him and said that she didn’t think that line of conversation was relevant to the Trust at this point as they do not operate the Jail yet.
Eddy continued for a moment and Everest said his 3 minutes had elapsed. Eddy said that he didn’t believe his effort to clarify the rules should count against his whole time.
Everest clearly disagreed, as she then thanked him again for his comments.
The meeting was adjourned immediately after.
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