Public defenders ordered to check on inmates after slew of problems at Oklahoma County jail

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OKLAHOMA COUNTY - The chief judge in Oklahoma County has ordered the public defender's office to go check in with inmates after one man, Charles Lemons, seemingly was lost in the jail for months without seeing a judge.

But, it's not the only problem plaguing the jail.

"We need more oversight at the sheriff's office and how that jail is run. It is not being managed well," said Commissioner Kevin Calvey.

Others said it all comes down to funding.

Oklahoma County is the only county in the state that relies on property taxes to fund its jail.

"Tulsa has a permanent quarter-cent sales tax that helps fund their jail, and we don't have that in Oklahoma county," said Commissioner Carrie Blumert.

A big part of what's underfunded is the mental health court program. Those people are forced to stay locked up at the jail until a bed opens at a treatment facility.

"We have increased the number of people who have gotten into that program in the last couple years by hundreds, but we haven't funded it the way it should be so, a lot of times, people need a higher level of care and we don't have a bed to give them," Blumert said.

That creates a dangerous situation at the jail.

"We are not a hospital, but we have to run like one. We have inmates that come in here all the time with some type of mental health needs," said Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office spokesman Mark Opgrande.

Earlier this year, one participant, Krysten Gonzalez, hanged herself in the jail.

That's when a judge said it's no longer safe for mental health court participants to stay there. He ordered it to stop.

"This building is not designed to house these kind of inmates to begin with," Opgrande said.

But, as of Friday, nothing has changed.

"Funding is the biggest issue," Blumert said.

Blumert wants to see some sort of consistent revenue like a sales tax to properly fund how the jail is operated.

Others disagree.

"To say we need more money or we're going to lose more people in the jail... look, this is just a management thing, not a money thing," Calvey said.

Blumert said there is $20 million of maintenance work that's been deferred at the jail.

Commissioners are also concerned, with the state of things, the county could get hit with more costly lawsuits.

The jail remains under Department of Justice supervision.


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