OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A no-holds-barred hearing on the future of the Oklahoma County Detention Center was held at First Street Baptist Church on Thursday night.
The question being asked: what does the community want it to be in 10 years?
The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council is seeking the public input on the same day the jail announced the second death of an inmate this week. The panel of listening consultants consisted of architects, civil rights activists, and an attorney.
The council and panel wanted a transparent, solution-oriented conversation, putting three possible fixes forward: renovating the current building, adding on an annex for more space, or building a completely new jail.
More than 50 people attended, showing concern about the unsanitary conditions, bed bugs, negligent staff, inconsistent meals, overcrowding, and deaths of inmates, among other horrors. There was no consensus on what should be done.
“I want them to tear it down,” said Candace White said of the jail. “I want them to tear it down, to start new. I want it to be gone.”
Others think it’s not the building’s conditions that are the issue, but the inmate population.
“Reduce the inmate population and from that, once you keep it down to under about 1,200 like it’s supposed to be, then you can reach out to other areas that may need fixing or what have you,” said attendee Michael Washington.
Some in attendance, like Elizabeth May, say the correctional officers are the main problem.
“It is the staff,” she said. “They have no clue as to what to do with mental health, none. If you’re going to rebuild the jail, rebuild the jail but you’ve got to do other things before you construct this building because the building in and of itself is not going to fix the problem.”
Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert sat in the audience to listen.
“In that room, there’s a lot of pain and a lot of frustration,” she said. “We just heard a woman talk about her brother that passed away in the jail. I think tonight is about listening to the stories of the people who have experienced our jail and trying to come up with a solution to treat people as humanely as possible.”
Blumert pulled multiple insights from the meeting.
“A big theme that is coming up is folks want to focus on the root causes of why we’re putting people to jail,” she said. “A lot of it is lack of access to mental health treatment, lack of access to substance abuse treatment. Poverty. Most the folks in our jail can’t afford to pay their bail to get out.”
The District 1 commissioner expressed that no matter what the solution is, they are going to need funding, likely from taxpayers.
“I think if we ask the voters to approve any sort of tax, or however they’re going to pay for this, we have to make sure that they trust us,” she explained. “I think right now based on what’s going on in the jail right now, I think it’s hard to get the community to trust us.”
CJAC plans to hold a second public listening session in the coming weeks.