PAWNEE, Okla. (KFOR) – All of Oklahoma County’s juvenile inmates who are charged with First Degree Murder are now being housed at the Pawnee County jail after the Oklahoma County Jail lost its certification to house juveniles earlier this month.
“They can hit this right here. It’s actually got a speaker where they can talk to whoever’s in the tower,” Pawnee County Sheriff Darrin Varnell said, while showing News 4 the Pawnee County Jail.
Sheriff Varnell gave KFOR a tour of the jail two days after Pawnee County agreed to house Oklahoma County’s juveniles charged with First Degree Murder.
“Here is the system where they can video visit with their family, order all their commissary stuff through that. They also have the ability to send email messages back and forth all through this. That way, it saves the families from having to drive back and forth,” Varnell said during the tour.
When the Oklahoma County Jail lost their certification to house juveniles earlier this month, the jail trust started their search for another facility to house the 11 juveniles they currently have who are all charged with Murder 1.
According to a statement released by Oklahoma County’s jail administrator Greg Williams, “We contacted around 65 housing facilities in the state of Oklahoma, and the Pawnee County Detention Center is the only one that meets the needs of our juvenile youthful offender inmates.”
“To them, our jail is the Four Seasons, compared to what they have,” Chief Deputy Nick Mahoney, with the Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office, said.
It’s no secret that the Oklahoma County Jail has been plagued with serious problems for years.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health found a long list of “repeat deficiencies” following a recent inspection, including a bed bug infestation, inmates not being fed three meals a day and juvenile inmates only seeing staff during meal time.
“One of them made the comment as soon as he walked in, it doesn’t stink in here,” Mahoney said.
Pawnee County also has the space to honor a state requirement that juveniles have to be separated by sight and sound from the adult inmates, which is something Oklahoma County was not able to do.
“It is a family atmosphere here, even with our inmates, and we try to treat everybody as family and so, our food is good. We keep the facility clean. We keep it smelling good,” Mahoney said. “It makes us feel humbled and we’re honored to be able to step up and do this.”
It costs Oklahoma County $45 per inmate, per day, to house the juveniles in Pawnee County. Their contract will last a year, with an auto renewal option, if need be.