OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority voted on approving a contract renewal with the City of Oklahoma City to continue incarcerating city offenders Monday, opponents of the renewal spoke up passionately.
The People’s Council for Justice Reform called out the jail trust for their unanimous approval of the contract (9 to 0), in which municipal offenders get detained in the Oklahoma County Detention Center.
“[The Trust] should not be signing a contract with a jail that is incapable of keeping people safe, literally incapable,” said activist Sean Cummings. “That’s negligence. That’s gross negligence.”
Another activist, Sara Bana, said city offenses like traffic violations, petty theft, trespassing and driving without a license aren’t deserving of a stay at the controversial county jail.
“Low level, minor non-violent offenses are not the types of things that we need to handcuff people for and forcibly place them in an unconstitutional, lethal facility.”
Bana also said taxpayers should not be liable for what could happen to city offenders in the jail’s “unsanitary, unsafe, and inhumane conditions.”
Some challengers said the City of OKC should have its own jail for city offenders like Midwest City does.
“Oklahoma City does not have a city jail, but it’s high time that they did,” said activist Mark Faulk.
Trust Chairman Jim Couch said for now, he believes the annual contracts will stand.
“The city doesn’t have any place else to bring their municipal prisoners and we’ve been housing them since shortly after the jail was constructed decades ago,” Couch said. “It was a unanimous vote because it’s an annual contract that’s been in place for decades. We’re happy to house their detainees and we’re just continuing that for one more year.”
He said their job is to house whoever the city brings them, but supports the City of OKC’s effort at criminal justice reform.
“They’ve done a good job,” he continued. “They may have some more work to do, but they’ve done a good job of taking those minor offenses and not bringing them into jail.”
A representative for the city of OKC told KFOR they do have a “citation to release” program which is meant to minimize how many city offenders get sent to the county jail, rather letting them off with a citation. They also report city council will vote on the contract renewal in the coming weeks.
Some opponents of the contract renewal also claimed it was illegal for the trust to retroactively sign a contract that expired in June.
Couch explained that by saying, “The old contract expired. It took us a few months to negotiate some additional terms that we needed to have to make the contract move forward. It was a contract that was negotiated with the City of Oklahoma City and both parties, I believe, are happy with the contract.”