New chapter for OK County jail
There are many unknowns regarding how financing and operation of the Oklahoma County jail might change under the oversight of a jail trust. One sure thing: The relationship between the sheriff and county commissioners isn't likely to grow warmer.
Sheriff P.D. Taylor strongly opposes the idea of a jail trust, something that has long been used in Tulsa County and has been talked about locally for years. Among other things, Taylor has said trustees could force him to reduce the number of jailers and services, such as school resource officers, to direct more funding to operations.
Earlier this month, deputies began warning residents in unincorporated areas of the county that patrols and services could be cut to fund a jail trust, and they distributed fliers urging residents to contact commissioners Brian Maughan, Kevin Calvey and Carrie Blumert. Deputies demanded that county officials guarantee they will fully fund the sheriff’s office law enforcement functions. The local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers even got involved via social media, urging its members to tell commissioners to fund county law enforcement.
Maughan complained to Taylor that deputies had turned to scare tactics. Taylor, sheriff since 2017, also has sparred several times with Calvey, who led the push for a jail trust.
On Wednesday, the commissioners voted 3-0 to establish a nine-person trust. Calvey and Taylor were both named to it. Other trustees include former Oklahoma City police chief M.T. Berry, former Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, former state Sen. Ben Brown and philanthropist Sue Ann Arnall.
They will decide how the jail will be run — options include keeping the sheriff's office in charge, hiring an outside firm or turning it over to the trust itself.
The commissioners’ vote came about five weeks after the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council, a group of community leaders and government officials headed by Oklahoma City Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett, voted 13-0 to endorse the idea of creating a jail trust.
The group is rightly concerned about the long history of problems at the jail, which opened in 1991. These include crowded and conditions and violence that resulted in federal oversight in 2009, inmate deaths, extensive mold and bad plumbing. The inmate deaths have cost the county millions in settlements and court judgements in the past decade.
The executive director of the advisory council has said creating a jail trust could help generate public support to build a new jail, an idea that hasn’t gained traction through the years. Calvey contends a trust will produce more transparency regarding jail operations. We shall see.
Ultimately, this move is a clear sign that the commissioners want a change from the status quo. Given the jail’s history, and Taylor’s protests notwithstanding, it’s hard to fault them for that.