Following a slew of growing problems at the Oklahoma County Detention Center, a group of Oklahoma lawmakers are calling on the federal government to take over.
Members of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus sent a letter Monday morning to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking the Department of Justice to take over operations of the jail.
“It is clear what has taken place at the Oklahoma County jail are civil rights violations that deserves the attention of our federal government,” said Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City.
Lowe said it's only a coincidence that his call comes the same day Garland is in town for the 26th year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
The jail has been under a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice since 2008.
Since December, seven inmates have died or have been killed inside the jail. Three inmates have escaped on the jail trust's watch. Six detention officers were charged with mistreating detainees. In August 2020, the Oklahoma City Police Department pulled booking staff out of the jail due to safety concerns. In March, a detention officer was held hostage.
“Something has to be done,” Lowe said. “We’ve been talking about this for 20 years now and nothing has been done.”
Oklahoma County Jail Trust Chairwoman Tricia Everest invited lawmakers to the jail, writing in a statement, "we will always cooperate with any oversight."
Jail Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu said she supports handing over control to the DOJ.
“It is absolutely time that somebody, hopefully the DOJ, does come in and provide that relief in order to save the lives that live and work at the jail,” Ekwerekwu said.
Lowe said aside from requesting the DOJ take control of the jail, he also supports a sales tax to build new facility.
“If I have to go down to D.C. myself and knock on the attorney general’s door, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Something has to be done,” Lowe said.