OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Early voting for the June 28 Primary Election began Thursday. In a release provided earlier this week, the Oklahoma State Election Board noted that several Republican and Democratic primaries will occur in addition to other nonpartisan elections.

Included on the ballot is a $260 million bond proposition that officials say would help cover the cost of a new jail and mental health facility.

Supporters of the bond issue told KFOR this is the best option for managing those issues at the Oklahoma County Detention Center.

“I voted to place this bond proposal on the ballot because I believe the Oklahoma County Detention Center is the most serious issue facing our county,” said District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert in a statement to KFOR Thursday. “The issue is now in the hands of the voters to decide, and I hope they will feel as strongly as I do about the issue and support building a new facility.”

Blumert said all three county commissioners were in agreement that the new jail was the best solution available.

“We don’t want the federal government to fix our local problem, it’s better if we take advantage and do that ourselves,” said District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan, also saying that the measure was added to this ballot for transparency.

“It’s really staff intensive, ” he added, citing the design of the proposed high-rise building, also stating that a new jail would “reduce staff pressures, assist with employee retention, and improve public safety measures.”

According to The Oklahoman Archives, the jail opened on Nov. 22, 1991, and was previously funded by a temporary 1-cent sales tax.

Problems began almost immediately, when a man awaiting trial was able to escape through a second-floor window the following January; one week later, another inmate also escaped.

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Oklahoma County Jail

Officials said the construction project will provide a solution to long-standing problems that have plagued the old facility, including jail deaths, overcrowding and overall poor conditions.

Issues at the jail since it was first built more than 30 years ago are well documented; the facility has experienced a systematic pattern of deaths, inmate escapes, plumbing and flooding issues, and illegal activity in cells like cookouts.

However, the bond proposition will not cover the whole cost of the jail. Maughan told KFOR in an interview Thursday that the additional cost will be made up by freeing up other existing funding channels.

A prior plan earmarked funding from the American Rescue Plan Act for the new construction, but the Treasury Department ruled that projects for construction on new correctional facilities would be “generally ineligible” for the money.

Moreover, District 3 County Commissioner Kevin Calvey previously told KFOR that if the public votes yes on June 28, it would mean the opportunity to improve public safety without raising taxes, and with greater accountability.

Calvey did not respond to requests Thursday for comment.

Wednesday marked the ninth jail death of the year, after a man attempted suicide at the facility and later died at the hospital.

Opponents say the plan for the new jail doesn’t matter because long-term management problems require more than a new facility.

“Does [a new jail] make less people die there? Does that make less people get bedbugs? Does that make less people have more? Does it make less people have moldy food?” said Sean Cummings in an interview Thursday. Cummings is an activist with The People’s Council for Justice Reform. “Bricks and mortar aren’t doing that. Plaster is not doing that. That’s the employees that are working there.”

An email from the organization Thursday cited a host of problems, including issues with management, a lack of professional supervision and understaffing.

Cummings said fixing the long term management problems would require more than a new facility.

“My biggest concern is about the people that are in there, [but] 80 percent of them have not been convicted of a crime. They’re waiting to go to court,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of people that are just poor and they’re there [in the jail] because they’re poor.”

Early voting runs through Saturday.