OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The response following a call by local clergy and community to address the ongoing crisis at the Oklahoma County Detention Center under the leadership of Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) Administrator Greg Williams was swift.
“Under his leadership the situation at the jail has not only failed to improve over the last two years, it has, by all metrics, worsened,” said organizer and Pastor John A. Reed, Jr., who leads Fairview Baptist Church.
Reed was joined by other several local pastors and community leaders, the NAACP and Concerned Clergy of Spiritual Renewal, said they want to see a change in leadership with the removal of jail CEO Graig Williams.
The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office officially handed off the jail to the Jail Trust following years plagued with problems.
However, critics say conditions have continued to deteriorate under Williams’s leadership.
The jail has seen a surge in inmate deaths and activists pointed to other traumatic events, including an inmate stabbing death in eaery 2021 and an alleged rape caught on surveillance camera when an unsupervised inmate attacked a woman who was handcuffed to a wall.
“We waited to see the death decline. We waited to see horror stories of the jail dissipate. We waited to see the direction change [but] we see right now that it is not happened,” said Reed.
“Mr. Williams is incapable of righting the ship.”
Other organizers said the need to go in a “different direction” was obvious.
“Rikers Island has a death rate at 2.8 deaths per 1000, and ours has a rate of 8.2 per 1000,” said Rev. Dr. Shannon Fleck , Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches.
“Our jail is struggling, and that is putting it kindly,” she added.
The jail trust quickly came back with comments sent on behalf of Greg Williams, saying he’s focused on improving conditions and operations [at the jail].
“Since the day I took this job, I have been focused on improving conditions and operations at the Oklahoma County Jail. While much work remains to be done, and some problems are not solvable in our current building, I will continue to work hard every day to make our facility as safe as it can be for our staff and our detainees. I’d like to thank the community members who share their input with us, and especially the groups who come to the table with solutions to help lower the jail population and connect detainees with assistance we are unable to provide inside the facility.”Greg Williams
Jail Trust Chair Jim Couch also sent a statement of support, adding that Williams has provided excellent “service under difficult circumstances”, and “especially to the detainees and staff at the jail”.
“In his time as CEO of the Oklahoma County Jail, Greg Williams has provided excellent service to our community, especially to the detainees and staff at the jail. Under exceedingly difficult circumstances, including a global pandemic, he has overseen projects which made material improvements in conditions, reversing decades of neglect in the facility. As the Jail Trust acknowledges, much work remains to improve safety and security and, most importantly, to do everything we can to stop deaths in the facility. We work constantly to increase staffing levels and remain vigilant against contraband,” Couch said. “We thank members of the faith community and others who have shared their concerns and their desire to make things better, and we remain committed to making improvements to protect staff and detainees.”Jim Couch
But in a scathing response Friday, Jail Trust member and Pastor Derrick Scobey said Couch’s comments were dismissive and did not represent all Jail Trust members.
“I listened carefully to what was expressed by many Pastors and community members this morning at Fairview Baptist Church. I found their analysis of the situation at the jail and their prescription to be accurate and necessary. I will act according to their directions and in the interest of the community, because I am accountable to the community as a member of the Trust. I also agree that the time to find new leadership for the jail is upon us. I was disappointed by Mr. Couch’s response to the reasonable and almost unanimously-supported request for change, because I found it to be dismissive of respected elders, clergy, leaders, and an overwhelming majority of people living in this county. Everyone, except Mr. Couch it seems, understands that despite Mr. Williams’ best efforts, he has proven himself incapable of doing the job up to our standards. The jail remains a place of death, horror, and harm. And I am committed to remediating these present conditions with all my might. I only ask that all of us convicted of our moral responsibility to help do so and attend the next Jail Trust meeting on Monday, November 7, 2022 at 1:00 pm.”
Derrick Scobey, Oklahoma County Jail Trust Member