Seemingly no end to jail’s lingering problems
WE wrote recently about Ray Vaughn’s parting remarks at his final meeting as District 3 Oklahoma County commissioner, including his thoughts on the county jail. They’re notable given an update about mold removal in the jail.
Vaughn said that although formation of a Criminal Justice Advisory Council had led to new policies and driven down the jail’s population, “the design and poor construction of the facility is now costing taxpayers millions of dollars in repairs without the promise of needed functionality for the variety of needs of our inmate population.”
A progress report by county engineer Stacy Trumbo helps drive home that point.
Trumbo told commissioners that although work has been underway for a year, mold removal is only about halfway completed. He noted that due to the jail’s high population, the sheriff’s office has had a tough time finding space to move inmates out of their cell pods to allow workers to treat rooms for mold. “Everybody’s frustrated with that,” Trumbo said.
The high-rise jail has struggled for years with leaky plumbing and mold. The latter was among the subpar conditions cited by 12 inmates in civil rights lawsuits filed in September. Although it later was determined the lawsuits were part of a jailhouse lawyer’s moneymaking scheme, the mold problem is real.
Vaughn’s successor, Commissioner Kevin Calvey, asked why a bleach solution wasn’t an option for cleaning mold off walls. Trumbo explained that the mold problem has gotten to the point that bleach is no longer effective, particularly in areas where it has moved into the ceiling.
Sheriff P.D. Taylor has allowed the use of bleach since taking office in September 2017; before that, the jail administrator didn’t allow it in the building.
In January 2018, commissioners approved a $300,000 contract with a mold remediation company. Last week, they approved a change to the contract that lets the firm clean mold out of a temporarily empty jail pod — one of four areas Trumbo said have extensive mold growth — for an additional $15,125.
Calvey no doubt echoed taxpayers’ frustration about the costs, saying they were “way more money than it ought to be costing because of lack of routine maintenance and because of silly policies in the recent past about not having bleach in the jail.”
Yet cleaning fluid is only one aspect. The director of jail facilities told commissioners that solving the mold problem will also require replacing the ventilation system. Vents that are supposed to move moist air out of showers and other areas are broken, allowing that air to linger and spur mold growth. And, he said, finding replacement parts for the ventilation system has been a longstanding problem.
Reforms that have reduced the jail’s population are encouraging and must continue, because it’s evident the building’s problems, which have existed in one form or another since it opened in 1991, won’t be remedied any time soon.