Commissioners want to create board to oversee Oklahoma County Jail, sheriff’s office

OKLAHOMA CITY - After county commissioners were forced to pay millions in unpaid medical bills, the group now is pushing for a trust to oversee the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office and the Oklahoma County Jail.

Officials say it all started last year when the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma County commissioners had to pay $3.3 million in unpaid medical bills following an audit under the former sheriff, John Whetsel.

Right now, the Oklahoma County commissioners are studying how a trust would operate the county jail.

"One of those is to add an appointee for the sheriff. So it would be an eight member board of trustees made up of the sheriff, three county commissioners and then each one of those members would appoint a citizen who would also serve on the trust,” Deputy Oklahoma County Commissioner Randy Grau said.

Grau, the chairman of the Trust Advisory Committee, says the trust would not impact the law enforcement aspect of the jail, and there would be no employment changes at the jail.

"It would be limited to oversight of the jail operations which includes funding of the jail," he said.

However, Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor says he is still waiting for answers to a long list of questions.

"How much is it going to cost to do this? Why are you doing this? Is it directed at me or is it directed at my predecessor, who is no longer here?" Sheriff P.D. Taylor said.

Right now, the sheriff opposes the trust, saying it's unnecessary.

"Say it's a sales tax and say it's passed and you're bringing in large sums of money to build a new jail, that's when you need a jail trust or oversight committee. We don't need one now,” Sheriff Taylor said.

Sheriff Taylor says he's been working with the Oklahoma City Chamber Task Force to fix some of the issues at the jail, including overpopulation through mental health resources and keeping lower level offenders out of jail.

He says in the last six months, they've lowered the jail's incarceration rate by 800 inmates.

"I think creating a jail trust right now is really going to hurt and slow down all of the hard work that all of these people have gotten together to lower the population," he said.

Several other county jails have oversight committees in the state, including Grady, Tulsa and Pottawatomie counties.

The next Jail Trust Advisory meeting is scheduled for March 9.