OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – In addition to voting in several key races on Tuesday, voters in Oklahoma County also were tasked with deciding whether or not to fund a new county jail.
The current Oklahoma County Detention Center has been in the news for years, with many expressing the need for a new facility.
The jail opened in 1991 and problems began almost immediately.
Archives show a man awaiting trial was able to escape through a second-floor window just months after the jail opened. One week later, another inmate escaped.
Other issues at the jail include a systematic pattern of deaths, escapes, and plumbing and flooding issues.
On Tuesday, Oklahoma County voters decided the fate of a $260 million bond proposition that officials say would help cover the cost of a new jail and mental health facility.
Supporters said a new jail would “reduce staff pressures, assist with employee retention, and improve public safety measures.”
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.”
On Tuesday, voters approved the bond for a new facility.
“Although many dedicated people have put great effort into improving the current Oklahoma County Detention Center, voters understood the need to invest in a new facility which will improve conditions for all and support a more humane approach to criminal justice,” Jim Couch, chair of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, said. “We thank the many parties who came together to create a comprehensive plan to fund a new jail, all without raising taxes on Oklahoma County residents,” he said. “However, until the new jail is ready the Jail Trust will continue to upgrade operations to serve the community while protecting the public, detainees and staff.”
“I’m grateful the voters have decided to solve this three-decade old problem in our community. With their vote of support, Oklahoma County can start working on the next steps to make their vote a reality. We will do so with transparency, accountability, and human dignity in mind. I want to thank all the member agencies of CJAC and their staff that worked diligently to put this package together. The voters agreed with you and now our work continues to make our county justice system fairer and more effective. It’s so encouraging to live in a community that can take ownership of its problems and move forward to better community solutions. This work has not been easy so far and won’t be any easier in the coming weeks and months. However, the community has shown they are up to the task. Onward,” said Timothy Tardibono, Executive Director of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council.