Seem­ingly no end to jail’s lin­ger­ing prob­lems

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - OPINION -

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.

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