The Cleveland County Jail has some new oversight, from the citizens. The Community Advisory Board aims to set an example for transparency.
What makes this board different is that the community members gain all access to the inner-most workings of the detention center.
“It’s the first in the country, the first in the state of Oklahoma, and that’s the kind of innovation we’re looking for,” says Sheriff Todd Gibson.
The nine civilians chosen for the group bring together a variety of backgrounds from corporate America to mental health.
Gibson says, “That was one of the goals of the selection process, to focus on diversity, but not only diversity in gender or race or those types of issues, but also diversity in experience.”
The sheriff says he is open to constructive criticism and hopes having different perspectives at the table will help bridge the gap between jail staff and the people they serve.
Candace Clay works as an insurance agent and says she was interested in joining the board because she studied recidivism of inmates in college. She says of the jail, “I think it’s just a big dark place that people don’t understand, so I think some understanding will help improve some processes.”
Members say they are impressed by the jail operations they saw on their initial tour, but admit transparency will be key to changing the public's perception. They also want detention officers to try to think from an inmate's perspective before they act.
Retired mental health administrator Rand Baker hopes to advocate for inmates suffering from illness and substance abuse, saying, “I don’t know that it needs to be approached any differently if communication is established as a priority right from the start.”
The nine members of the board are on two- and three-year terms to stagger new appointments.
Justice department representatives came to the board's first meeting to recognize this historic partnership, and the sheriff encourages neighboring departments to follow suit.
“We hope that others will see that by bringing the community into the operations of any law enforcement entity, but especially detention centers like this one,” Gibson says, “we can actually make improvements and transform lives of people we interact with on a routine basis.”
The board plans to meet once a month as they familiarize themselves with the details of the jail. After their orientation, they plan to meet quarterly.