OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – During the first tour of the Oklahoma County Jail that KFOR has received since the Jail Trust took over in July, jail staff pointed out long-time problems inside the jail they’re working to fix and addressed recent rumors.
“What was really giving us problems was the low water pressure,” Greg Williams, Jail Administrator of the Oklahoma County Jail, told News 4 Tuesday.
During February’s winter weather, News 4 received several emails from loved ones of inmates at the jail who claimed the inmates were without water for 24 hours and had to use bags for sanitation.
On Tuesday, during KFOR’s first tour of the jail since the Jail Trust took over operations of the jail in July, Williams said those are simply rumors.
“I had staff say that’s the way we used to do it. I said really, and they said yeah, we used to provide people bags to go to the bathroom in and we’d collect the bags and take them downstairs,” Williams said. “That is really not our protocol here. But to say that that didn’t happen here, that we didn’t have a particular person who thought that’s what they were supposed to do, I can’t really say that. Personally I did not observe that.”
However, Williams said the water pressure was low on most of the top floors for days, which is why staff used 55 gallon tubs to bring water from the basements upstairs.
“We’d fill these up in the basement because we had water in the basement, fill them up in the basement, in the elevators, drop them off four at a time on each floor,” Willaims said.
The Oklahoma County Jail has been plagued with a long list of problems for years.
“Here’s an example of a hole where one of the guys would beat through that wall, and again it’s just a cylinder block wall. They’re just hollow walls. So, once you break that open, you get a piece of concrete, you just beat on it and break through to the next cell,” Williams said during the tour.
That is part of the reason why that pod is currently closed while those repairs are being made.
Crews are also installing a new water management system, using some of the millions in CARES dollars the jail got from the county.
“The old style flusher was just a button that pushed in probably that far and the inmates could just flush it, flush it, flush it and they could flood the cell, which in turn flood the entire jail,” William Monday, Assistant Jail Administrator, said. “Also, they could flush contraband that would go all the way to other cells throughout the whole jail. Now, the system, I flushed it twice. It’s locked me out for an hour.”
Beyond that, just last week, the Trust asked the county budget board for $5.9 million for new locks and control panels.
“Some of the hinges can come undone and inmates, or detainees, have gotten out at night or been able to manipulate the system,” Tricia Everest, chair of the Jail Trust, said.
Before the Trust took over operations of the jail, Sheriff PD Taylor installed 320 new locks and the Trust is hoping to install 684 more of them to keep that from happening.
The budget board ultimately gave the Trust just under $1 million for those locks and control panels.
Another plan on the horizon is to fix a problem that was noted when News 4 got a tour of the jail two years ago when Sheriff PD Taylor was still in charge. The Trust is hoping to move the medical staff, which currently operates in a tiny spot within old jail cells, to a large storage room on the first floor just across from where inmates are booked in.
“For the mental health, for those that might just need other services, really start pushing and expanding what the booking looks like, so it’s not presumed someone stays and goes up onto the floors. Because there might be other services that are far better,” Everest said.
Williams said that project could cost around $12 million.