Activists Question Oklahoma County Jail Trustee's Reasoning For Resignation

Several Oklahoma activist groups are questioning the resignation of Oklahoma County Jail trustee Sue Ann Arnall, who stepped down from her seat on the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, after Arnall said in her resignation letter the jail requires additional funding.

Friday, February 23rd 2024, 9:06 am

By: News 9, Matt McCabe


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A resignation letter from Sue Ann Arnall set off a chain of reactions within the Oklahoma County criminal justice community on Monday. 

Arnall stepped down from her seat on the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, which oversees the Oklahoma County Detention Center. Many reactions included thanks to Arnall for her work through the years.

“Ms. Sue Ann Arnall was one of the founding members of the Criminal Justice Authority," the remaining members of the board said in a statement on Monday after she announced her resignation. "Her insight and dedication to improving the lives of employees and detainees will be deeply missed. With her support, changes have been and continue to be made at the detention center. Remodeling is underway in the booking area, but more is needed. All members of the Trust appreciate her effort and in her absence will continue to work toward her and the Authority’s goals.”

In her resignation letter, Arnall expressed her frustration with the lack of funding for the detention center.

"Several county officials have pointed to a lack of funds across the board as a reason for not adequately funding the jail, but I contend that they need to prioritize their funding," she wrote in the letter.

However, representatives of the People's Council for Justice Reform and the Oklahoma State NAACP disagree with the notion the current jail deserves more funding. Part of their dissent hinges on the newly approved location for a future jail, which could open as early as 2027. 

Arnall's letter brought attention to opportunities for remodeling certain parts of the county detention center. Arnall had previously lobbied county leaders for $1.5 million to upgrade the booking area, but allocations for that project were never approved.

"I'm a free enterprise person," said Bernard Allen-Bey, president of the Oklahoma State NAACP, at Thursday's news conference. "I appreciate the profit motive. But I think the main thing is profit, you're going to have to take the profit out of incarcerating people."

Allen-bey, and other activists with him, instead hoped the jail could exist within a budget deficit by decreasing the jail's population. 

The Criminal Justice Advisory Council, led by executive director Timothy Tardibono, has already identified a reduction in the jail's population. In September, Tardibono said the jail's population had come down to an average of nearly 1,500 people. The number had peaked years prior at or above 2,500 people.

Former State Senator Connie Johnson said during Thursday's news conference responding to Arnall's resignation money would be better spent on services outside of the jail. She cited day treatment programs for those with mental illness, or housing projects for the homeless, as preferred alternatives.

"Those are the things we're proposing versus continuing to invest in these types of dead-end, punitive inhumane solutions," Johnson said.

Other activists within the group made personal criticisms against Arnall's tenure with the jail trust. The People's Council for Justice Reform distributed a handout titled "Arnall Resignation Fact Sheet."

In response to the criticisms, Tardibono said "Their claims are so outlandishly false and hateful toward a trailblazing female community leader, Ms. Arnall, that I simply have no comment."

News 9 reached out to Arnall but has not received a response.

Community activist Jesse Eddy defended Arnall, saying her track record has supported community-based services and diversion. She is the chairperson of the Oklahoma County Diversion Hub.

"It's really frustrating to the point of disturbing," Eddy said. "Because few people, if anybody, has given as much of themselves, their time, and their money to supporting marginalized and vulnerable people, particularly at the Oklahoma County Detention Center, as Sue Arnall."

Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said the assertions made about Arnall were not true. 

A spokesperson for the Oklahoma County Detention Center said it had not been approached by the NAACP about engaging in conversations about the jail, but welcomed the opportunity. 

After Thursday's news conference, Eddy called Garland Pruitt, the president of the Oklahoma City NAACP. According to Eddy, Pruitt said in a conversation with him he was under the impression the news conference would focus more on expectations of the jail trust and less on personal criticisms of Arnall. In response to Eddy's recollection of their conversation, Pruitt issued his own response.

"OKC NAACP President Garland Pruitt did not disparage Sue Ann Arnall during the press conference," he said in a statement. "He asked for the dissolution of the jail trust. Any Statement going forward needs to come from me."

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