OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) voted Monday to accept recommendations for a new Jail facility on a new site.
The recommendations come from the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) and were recently adopted by the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust).
Monday’s vote is aspirational, as it is not a concrete plan of action. It does, however, begin the formal process of building a new Jail facility.
Marty Peercy reports Local government
The five recommendations accepted by the BoCC are:
- Build a new better facility that meets American Correctional Association (ACA) standards.
- Hold a public vote to continue existing bonds to fund the construction.
- The new facility will have no more than 950 housing units for a maximum population not to exceed 1,800.
- Continue community criminal justice reform efforts to keep the facility with a 15% vacancy, per ACA standards.
- A Site Selection Committee and a Construction Oversight Task Force should be appointed.
These recommendations were developed by a subcommittee of CJAC. Readers will remember that CJAC is the county-wide body made up of law enforcement, elected officials, service providers, and the fabulously wealthy.
CJAC is a project of The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the one staff person who does the most research for the group is funded by the Chamber.
The facility subcommittee was co-chaired by Sue Ann Arnall, who sits on the Jail Trust, and Dan Straughan, the Executive Director of the Homeless Alliance.
After assessing the Jail and its many problems, according to Straughan, the committee had to come to grips with the reality that the current Jail facility is not fixable.
“A new Jail is the only viable option,” Straughan told the Commissioners.
The subcommittee submitted their recommendations to the rest of CJAC with the consultants, FSB and HOK. CJAC adopted the recommendations last month and presented those recommendations to the Jail Trust last week.
The Jail Trust unanimously accepted the recommendations in order to submit them to the BoCC.
Please the rest of Free Press’s coverage on this process over recent months.
The BoCC meeting room was full for Monday’s meeting, including many residents who came specifically to speak to the issue of building a new jail facility. Some familiar faces were present, but also a number of community members who took time away from their everyday lives to come and speak about the issue.
One speaker, Katrina Ward, posed a question to the Commissioners, asking simply how does somebody make something that is inherently harmful “better?”
Conversely, Joy Turner, a disability attorney, endorsed the plan for a new jail, stating that the current jail can’t be fixed.
Sean Cummings, a regular commenter at County meetings, compared the plan to use American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds to construct a new jail to the meeting last year when Calvey gaveled in and called a vote on using $40 million in CARES Funds for the current Jail before Commissioner Blumert had even taken her seat.
Sara Bana, another regular participant in these meetings, compared the plan to former President Donald Trump’s declaration that “we will build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.”
Garland Pruitt of the local NAACP told the Commissioners that they were given an awesome responsibility. He said that the federal government is going to intervene soon if the County doesn’t start to pay more attention.
Hannah Royce, a local activist and graphic designer, echoed Representative Mauree Turner’s favorite quote, “Nothing about us without us,” declaring that this process “has definitely been without us.” Royce urged the Commissioners to wait to approve a plan until there has been sufficient input from the public, which Royce said would require more than two public “listening sessions.”
Royce went on to say that with the Chamber of Commerce’s fingerprints all over the plan, she could only assume it has nothing to do with the conditions in the Jail. She claimed that the purpose of this is to hide poor people from public view, so that tourism and commerce won’t be disrupted by people seeing poor people in the community.
After public comment, each Commissioner took the opportunity to address their thoughts on the topic.
District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey first addressed a quote of his own from the previous week. At the last meeting of the Jail Trust, Calvey said, “If anything, I wish we could build it bigger.”
People were up in arms about the comment, as most members of the public tend to support reducing incarceration.
On Monday, Calvey backed off of that point and said that the plan for the new facility to hold a higher capacity than the current Jail is an appropriate plan. Calvey quoted Straughan, who said, “let’s not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.”
He went on to say that reforming cash bail too much results in a lack of public safety and invoked the recent parade incident in Waukesha, WI to support his contention.
District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert explained that while she campaigned on wanting to build a new Jail, she is not yet sold on using ARPA funds for it.
She pointed out that state statute requires the County to have and maintain a Jail. So, until that statute changes, we will have a Jail, so it needs to be less inhumane than what we have now.
District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan said that previously he had been against building a new Jail, but that the current building the County has for a Jail is just not salvageable.
Maughan said that with the bond cycle turning over soon, and ARPA money headed to the County, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this at very little cost to the taxpayers.
While the use of ARPA funds is on the table for building a new facility, the specific slate of recommendations does not include using those funds as a line item.
The Commissioners discussed that idea briefly. Blumert, as she said, was skeptical about the use of those funds. Maughan expressed concern about the legal parameters of using ARPA funds. Calvey, while eager to use that money for construction, acquiesced that it was a detail to be sorted out in the future.
Calvey moved to accept the recommendations, Blumert seconded.
The Board passed the motion unanimously.
Developing a plan to move forward on the recommendations will begin at once.
The BoCC will meet again on December 20 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Updated December 6, 2021, 3:51 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor