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A second “listening session” regarding possible solutions for problems faced by the Oklahoma County Jail quickly turned into a lecture session, according to the throng of attendees in Oklahoma City who were promised time to speak. Instead, an architectural firm originally hired to research Oklahoma County jail-related issues spoke for over 60 minutes, much to the crowd’s dismay.
Attendees were told the community meeting would last for one hour and thirty minutes. Of that time, the architectural firm spoke for over an hour, limiting the chances for members of the public to speak up and speak out, according to a recent report from Oklahoma City Free Press.
Additionally, the participants at the listening session felt as though their concerns and ideas were relegated behind those of the architectural firm’s alleged solutions. The firm, FSB, is a consulting arm of an organization that is dedicated to designing courthouses, crime labs, police stations, prisons, jails and government buildings.
Notorious jail faces criticism
The Oklahoma County Jail has faced a myriad of challenges and issues since it opened, affecting not only those who are in the jail, but also the entire Oklahoma City community. Southside Senator and attorney Michael Brooks, who has represented several clients who were incarcerated in Oklahoma County jail, noted that the jail has been “defective from the beginning,” and “it has only gotten worse” over time.
Most recently, officials placed an inmate and staff members under investigation after one male inmate allegedly sexually abused another. Moreover, Oklahoma County District Attorney has convened a grand jury to investigate those in charge of the jail after multiple inmate deaths just this year.
Other attendees agreed that the problems have only gotten worse.
Panelist and mental health practitioner Frank Turner, stated ““The one thing that I can say … is we know what’s wrong with the jail, and there’s pretty much nothing right about the Jail.” Candace White, who was incarcerated in Oklahoma County jail before attending ReMerge, a diversion program, confirmed, “they’re treating people like animals — like they don’t matter. And, that’s just … disgusting. I’ve been treated that way.”
Attendees also expressed dismay at the systems that have led to dangerous overcrowding and unsafe conditions for people who are incarcerated in Oklahoma County. Criminal justice reform advocates note that the answer is not to build a bigger jail, but to find more humane solutions to Oklahoma’s excessive incarceration policies.
Oklahoma’s incarceration rate higher than most countries
Oklahoma consistently ranks as one of the top states for incarcerating people. In 2016, Oklahoma had the highest incarceration rate in the world, at over 1000 people per capita.
The “listening session” was organized by a group called the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council or CJAC, a project of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. Last year CJAC unilaterally formed the Jail Trust, and then convinced city commissioners to turn the jail over to the trust, to the dismay of community members, who do not feel the trust effectively represents the community or those who are incarcerated in Oklahoma County Jail. Furthermore, the decision to turn the jail over to the trust was made without a vote or public input.
One attendee who spoke to the OKC Free Press after the meeting noted, “I would rather have the county sheriff in charge of the jail. At least we elect that position.”