Committee focuses on improving county jail

Tuesday, September 30th 2008, 9:48 pm
By: News 9

By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A new committee said the Oklahoma County jail may need to be torn down.

The plan is just one of several options on the table for a newly formed group that's in charge of finding solutions to the on-going problems at county jail.

The first meeting of the Adult Detention Advisory Committee included Oklahoma County leaders, including the sheriff, the district attorney, county commissioners, former judges, police chiefs and prominent attorneys.

"Somebody mentioned the 800 pound gorilla in the room. It's an albatross," committee member Mike Means said. "It was poorly designed...has not ever met what we needed."

Means is now the chairman of the 10-member citizens committee that's in charge of suggesting how to best improve the troubled facility:

Possible suggestions include:

  • minor adjustments to the county jail 
  • adding on to the existing building
  • completely tearing it down and building another jail
  • do nothing at all

The committee has a December 31 deadline to make their recommendation.

"With the time limit, it will force the issue and committee members will work harder to get something resolved," committee member Ann Simank said.

The feds could come in and take over the jail if on-going problems aren't addressed.

Problems reported by the Department of Justice include:

  • lack of supervision
  • violence between inmates
  • excessive force by guards

The sheriff has already issued one letter to the DOJ, and on Tuesday, he issued a second letter which advised the agency of the improvements that have already been made.

"We want to make sure that every concern they had has been addressed or is being addressed," Sheriff John Whetsel said.

County leaders are set on fixing the problems with the jail. The committee will begin its research next Monday by taking a tour of the jail.

The public is welcome to provide input during future committee meetings, but they're not interested in hearing complaints regarding individual problems or inmates.