Oklahoma County residents, it’s time to mark June 28 on your calendar.
Last week, the three-member Board of County Commissioners set an election date for a proposed $260 million general obligation bond to fund the construction of a new county jail.
Tax rates would remain steady if voters approve the measure and decrease slightly if it’s defeated.
The decision comes as deaths continue to accumulate inside the troubled facility. Just 102 days into 2022, six people detained inside the Oklahoma County Jail have died. In comparison, eight people died inside the jail in 2020.
County officials say the jail’s design flaws and persistent maintenance issues make renovation an unrealistic proposition. They argue a new jail, complete with designated mental health and medical units, would help reduce deaths and bring the county in compliance with state and federal standards.
Advocates are critical of the county’s plans to build an 1,800-bed facility, saying that officials could build a smaller jail and use the savings to expand mental health and drug treatment services. The current jail had an average daily population of 1,675 in March.
The new jail would cost approximately $300 million, short of the $260 million the bond proposes. In previous meetings, county officials floated around the idea of American Rescue Plan funds to pay for part of a new jail. The federal government has since stipulated that COVID-19 relief funds cannot be used to build detention facilities.
Several questions regarding the new jail, including its location, opening date and rated occupancy, remain unanswered. FSB Architects, an Oklahoma City-based firm hired to evaluate construction and renovation options, has said it would take about two years from groundbreaking to complete construction.
One detail of note: June 28 is also the primary election date for local and statewide races, so expect turnout to be high.
What I’m Reading This Week
- The Return of the Firing Squad? Though its widely perceived as cruel and archaic, a scarcity of lethal injection supplies has prompted South Carolina to revive the firing squad as its primary execution method. Oklahoma and Mississippi could be next. [The Marshall Project]
- Oklahoma Law Enforcement Could Be Consolidated Into a ‘Mega-Agency.’ Here’s What That Means: Lawmakers are considering a bill that would move Oklahoma’s four law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Narcotics, under one roof. Proponents say it would allow the agencies to communicate more effectively, while opponents argue the proposed structure of the agency’s oversight board could allow outside influences to sway investigations. [The Oklahoman]
- Investigation Into Oklahoma Prison Gang, Drug Trafficking Ends With 125 Convictions: Seventeen Oklahoma prisoners who coordinated drug deals from their cells are facing federal drug trafficking charges. [News 9]
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From the impact of COVID-19 behind bars to the effects of prison gerrymandering, my reporting focuses on how Oklahoma’s criminal justice system impacts people inside and outside of the system. It can take weeks or months for me to file public records requests, dig into documents and track down sources. As a nonprofit news organization, we rely on your financial support to do this time-consuming but important work. Help us make a difference.