County officials scrambling for solutions, collapsed sewer lines force jail kitchen to close

OKLAHOMA CITY – A handful of problems at the Oklahoma County Jail has jail officials scrambling to get things back in order.

“This entire jail is more frustrating than you could ever believe,” said Sheriff John Whetsel, with the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.

Inmates and family members of those incarcerated have been complaining to NewsChannel 4 about the lack of hot food and sewage problems inside the 22-year-old facility.

Sheriff Whetsel says the problems are connected and stem from issues related to where the jail was built.

Authorities say a sewer line underneath the jail’s basement has been a problem for years because the facility was built on a river bed.

“They were placed in sand, a sandy river bottom, that has maintained moisture all these years and basically, just dissolved the sewer lines,” Whetsel said.

Recently, the sewer lines that keep the kitchen operational collapsed, meaning the jail could no longer cook hot meals.

“For a period of 13 days (in July), there were three cold meals (a day) but they still ate,” Whetsel said. “They never have gone hungry.”

After the sewer line collapsed, the jail used a portable kitchen from the Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief organization to provide inmates with two hot meals a day.

Officials say that is the minimum to meet Oklahoma jail standards.

However, the jail’s ability to use the kitchen ended at the end of July.

In its place, authorities purchased a few military tilt skillets for $500 a piece.

The sheriff says those skillets are normally $8,000 to $10,000 a piece.

While the skillets weren’t full price, now officials are trying to find a place to put them.

Right now, they are taking up half of the jail’s sally port, which is an entrance for inmates.

The Oklahoma County Jail is now looking for a portable trailer from the military surplus to be modified into a temporary kitchen the facility would own.

That way, it could house those massive skillets and have it on hand in the event of future kitchen problems.

Oklahoma County has authorized $1.5 million to replace the sewer lines in the basement with a vacuum sewer system.

“As soon as that’s completed, we’ll be able to reopen the kitchen,” Whetsel said. “It’s a permanent fix for one floor, the basement, but it doesn’t address the other issues in the facility.”

He expects the jail’s regular kitchen to reopen by early October.