OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) voted unanimously Thursday to focus on studying a new jail facility as they narrow options before making recommendations to the Jail Trust later.
The vote came after a presentation from consultants at FSB and HOK updating details of the options for facility improvements for the Oklahoma County Detention Center (Jail).
After the presentation, members of CJAC heard comments from several local activists during the public comment time.
Marty Peercy reports Local government
Since June, consultants from FSB and HOK have been studying options for improving Jail facilities in Oklahoma County.
Three options were identified in the beginning to help contain the scope of the study. CJAC members and members of the Facilities subcommittee asked the consultants to come back with information to illustrate the costs and benefits of those three options.
- The first option was to build a completely new facility which the group voted for in the process that involves yet another CJAC meeting before the group makes a detailed recommendation to the Jail Trust.
- The second option considered was remodeling the Jail to bring it up to modern and humane standards.
- The third option, a sort of hybrid, was to build a new low-rise annex abutting the existing Jail tower.
Several institutions have made efforts to lower the population of the Jail in the time since the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) took over administration of the Jail from former Sheriff P.D. Taylor. At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, most of the law enforcement agencies that feed detainees to the Jail employed new cite and release policies.
At one point the Jail’s population was lower than 1,400. The current population at the Jail is closer to 1,800.
Arrests in communities in the County — Oklahoma City in particular — are a factor of the high population of the Jail. But another, less obvious factor in the high population relates to the Department of Corrections (DOC).
According to statute, the DOC is not required to take custody of detainees immediately upon sentencing unless there is a bed shortage at the Jail facility. Years ago the Department of Health classified the Jail, originally built for 1,200 persons, as having a “safe” capacity of 2,890 detainees.
Though that is not a number that anybody finds acceptable, it does mean that DOC frequently has well over a hundred sentenced detainees waiting for transfer.
The discussion of building a wholly new 1,800-bed facility included the reality that land would likely have to be acquired.
However, estimates are that a new facility would need a smaller staff, as direct supervision in the current tower configuration is nearly impossible without a much larger staff.
The plan includes building the new facility within ten minutes of the Courthouse.
This option is projected to be the highest upfront cost, at a current estimation of $300 million. However, with fewer staff members needed for proper supervision, it would have the lowest operational cost over the estimated 25-year life of a new facility.
One option explained by consultants but not selected was to build a new annex and remodel the existing Jail tower. The new annex would have three levels.
The annex would provide an additional 150 beds, an enhanced and updated intake/booking area with more streamlined practices, and a new medical/mental health clinic with 400 beds.
The members of the body were informed that TurnKey Health, the healthcare provider at the Jail, has informed the consultants that if given a new space they would rebate their annual fee by $1 million.
Under this option, the remodel of the Jail tower would keep medium and maximum security detainees in cells with only one bed (that amounts to approximately 1,200 beds). Guard stations would be replaced with direct supervision desks, as well as renovating elevators, fire protection, and physical and electronic security systems. The floor level visitation area in the tower would be renovated to serve as an outdoor recreation space.
The central question about building a new Jail facility is how to fund such a project.
The first suggestion for funding the new Jail is to use all $154 million of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) relief funds. While this is legally tenable, many in the community are already incensed at the idea of more relief money being used for incarceration, rather than for improving the lives of the people of Oklahoma County.
Additional money would be found using general obligation limited tax bonds (GOLT) to the tune of $95 million, revenue anticipation bonds in the amount of $48 million, and lease-purchase revenue bonds at $95 million.
After facility subcommittee member Dan Straughan, Executive Director of Homeless Alliance, said that he does not believe the existing Jail is fixable, the body voted to move forward with coming up with the best options for a new facility to be built.
Several local activists that attend and comment often at the meetings were on hand for public comment.
Local restaurateur Sean Cummings said that before the current Jail was built, then-District Attorney Bob Macy said, “If you build it I’ll fill it.” Cummings said that philosophy has ruled the community ever since.
Cummings and other activists have recently called for the Jail Trust to be dissolved and for the administration of the Jail to return to the Sheriff’s Office.
Others continued to argue that new approaches besides building a new jail should be considered to best take care of people who are in need who get arrested.
Meanwhile, local activist Jess Eddy took the podium to disagree, showing a schism of sorts among the loose affiliation of people who have been addressing the Jail Trust over the past year.
Eddy said that he has been hesitant to engage with some of those activists because of disagreements about what is best for the people currently being held in the Jail, and those who will have to be there in the future.
“The Jail Trust is better than a Sheriff who has stated that he does not believe systemic racism exists in policing.”
He also criticized Oklahoma County DA David Prater and Presiding Judge Ray Elliott as those he considered to be the real issue for consideration in future elections because of their unwillingness to go along with some Own Recognizance (OR) bonds or certain kinds of plea deals.
The next meeting of CJAC will be on November 18 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Updated October 22, 2021, 9:43 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor