The Oklahoman

Public again invited to weigh in on county jail

- JaNae Williams

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council will host a second public listening session from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday giving the community another opportunit­y to address concerns about the Oklahoma County jail.

The session will be at the Cole Community Center in the OKC First Church of the Nazarene at 4400 Northwest Expressway.

The Criminal Justice Advisory Council, which includes several members of the jail trust along with other judicial, law enforcemen­t, political, nonprofit and faith leaders, works to bring reforms to the jail and justice system in Oklahoma County. The group hired a team of consultant­s in June to provide recommenda­tions for the future of the jail.

Wayne Snow, one of the consultant­s, said the session will follow the same format as the first public listening meeting held by the group. That session, held Aug. 12, left the community demanding more accountabi­lity and involvemen­t from those in charge of the jail.

“The goal is to continue to gain solution-focused input from the community, as part of our thoughtful and thorough assessment of the Oklahoma County Detention Center,” Snow said in an email.

The recommenda­tions from the consultant are expected to fall into one of three categories, Snow said in August: renovation, building an addition to the existing jail, or replacing the current jail with a new facility.

“The consultant team will present preliminar­y findings to the public for feedback and questions,” he said.

Snow said members of the community are invited to speak openly on these findings and help inform the final recommenda­tions the consultant­s will deliver to the Criminal Justice Advisory Council in November.

The advisory council and the jail trust are not the same entity, but because members of the trust also serve on the council, it does supply the trust with suggestion­s and recommenda­tions.

The state of the jail has also been a topic of conversati­on at county commission­er and jail trust meetings. Members of the public speaking at the meetings typically agree the jail has serious fundamenta­l problems and many suggest it needs to be demolished, but there is rarely a consensus that a new building will provide a complete solution.

The jail has been plagued with problems for years including a high incidence of detainee deaths. Juvenile offenders are no longer allowed to be held in the facility based on the most recent failed health department inspection.

Even with efforts to improve conditions and recent success in reducing population counts, citizens are still critical of conditions and leadership. The jail, rated for a maximum of 1,200 people, averages a population of more than 1,600. Previously, the population was often more than 2,000.

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