In Monday’s tidy and efficient meeting of the often beleaguered Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, more commonly known as the Jail trust, the Trust heard reports from CEO Greg Williams about the current state of COVID-19 in the Jail.
The Trust also struck one item to approve a contract for telephone services in the Jail leaving the future of a new phone service in limbo for the time being.
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After gavelling in the meeting, Chairperson Tricia Everest struck an item from the agenda that would have provided for the Trust to approve a contract with Telmate. Telmate is the company that has provided phone services to the jail for those incarcerated for some time.
The Trust was originally going to contract with a different provider, but Telmate approached the Trust and asked to re-bid their contract. After adding some incentives and significantly decreasing the price per minute to the consumer in the jail, the Trust agreed that they would engage in a new contract with the company.
The contract was not finalized in time for it to be reviewed today by the Jail Trust, which has historically been somewhat slow to take action.
Contracts for services that existed before the Trust’s takeover of the Jail that the Trust has not yet modified or updated have been on month-to-month agreements.
It was not stated when this item will return for the Trust’s consideration.
The usual item of approval of minutes was derailed in Monday’s meeting, as Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu questioned the wording of one action.
The action in question was a motion from Trustee Jim Couch about the forming of the above mentioned contract for telephone services. The wording in the beginning of the record, according to Ekwerekwu, didn’t match her memory of the meeting. Trustee Sue Ann Arnall also voiced concern about the language.
The trouble with the language mentioned was that early in the record it seems that the motion would allow the Chair or the CEO to finalize the contract without it returning to the Trust for review. However, the language at the end of that portion of the record required the contract to return for review.
County Clerk David B. Hooten addressed the Trust on this point. He stated that Clerk’s staff return to the videos of meetings to transcribe them for official minutes. He said that if there was any doubt about the transcript he would encourage the Trust to not approve the minutes for the moment and return them to his office for a detailed clarification of what was said in the previous meeting. The Trust took his advice and voted to not accept the minutes as provided.
CEO Greg Williams gave brief reports of COVID-19 in the Jail, and the current state of jail operations.
In his COVID report, Williams said that since July, the Jail has had 341 positive tests, but the last batch of testing showed only one infection. He also stated that the Jail population currently has no COVID hospitalizations. Two people in Jail custody have succumbed to the deadly virus.
Ekwerekwu pointed out that the County Courts will be closed from December 21 through December 31 for all but emergency hearings. She asked what would change about testing during that time. Williams explained that they would continue to test at the same rate. He went on to explain that there were efforts being made for a misdemeanor docket to be held so that people arrested on low level charges would still be able to get out of jail during that time.
After Williams’s report on COVID, local restaurant owner Sean Cummings was allowed to provide public comment. He stated that if the Jail has an infection rate lower than 1%, then the $10 million surplus in CARES money didn’t need to go to ameliorate COVID at the Jail.
Williams returned to the podium to give another report on Jail operations.
Williams said that the previous night’s (Sunday, 12/6/20) was 1758, with 25 expected to be released to the custody of the Department of Corrections this week.
He said that turnover of jail staff remains something he wants to get under control, but that the applicants the Jail has received have been from high-quality applicants.
Williams said that some staff will be attending self-defense training soon. He explained that self-defense training was shifting from a law enforcement version to a corrections model, since the two approaches are for different jobs.
At the end of the meeting, four people were invited for public comment. Each of the speakers has made appearances before this body many times in the past six months.
First was Sean Cummings, who encouraged the Jail Trust to increase their charge to municipalities for holding their arrestees. He claimed that Oklahoma County Detention Center’s rate was lower than neighboring counties. He explained that this move would generate significant revenue without raising anybody’s taxes.
The next three speakers were local activists Jess Eddy, Adriana Laws, and Christopher Johnston. Each of the three politely thanked the Trustees for the opportunity to speak and went on to urge the Trustees to remove ICE agents from the County Jail.
The Trust meets again on December 21, at 1:00 p.m.
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Correction – We originally stated that the next meeting of the Trust is December 12. It is December 21.