CommunityElection 2022Oklahoma County

Justice Watch: Oklahoma County Voters Will Decide on New Jail Funding

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by Keaton Ross, Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

Oklahoma County residents, it’s time to mark June 28 on your calendar. 

Last week, the three-member Board of County Commissioners set an election date for a proposed $260 million general obligation bond to fund the construction of a new county jail. 

Tax rates would remain steady if voters approve the measure and decrease slightly if it’s defeated. 

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The decision comes as deaths continue to accumulate inside the troubled facility. Just 102 days into 2022, six people detained inside the Oklahoma County Jail have died. In comparison, eight people died inside the jail in 2020. 

County officials say the jail’s design flaws and persistent maintenance issues make renovation an unrealistic proposition. They argue a new jail, complete with designated mental health and medical units, would help reduce deaths and bring the county in compliance with state and federal standards.  

Advocates are critical of the county plan’s to build a 1,800-bed facility, saying that officials could build a smaller jail and use the savings to expand mental health and drug treatment services. The current jail had an average daily population of 1,675 in March. 

The new jail would cost approximately $300 million, short of the $260 million the bond proposes. In previous meetings, county officials floated around the idea of American Rescue Plan funds to pay for part of a new jail. The federal government has since stipulated that COVID-19 relief funds cannot be used to build detention facilities. 

Several questions regarding the new jail, including its location, opening date and rated occupancy, remain unanswered. FSB Architects, an Oklahoma City-based firm hired to evaluate construction and renovation options, has said it would take about two years from groundbreaking to complete construction. 

One detail of note: June 28 is also the primary election date for local and statewide races, so expect turnout to be high. 

This story appears in The Luther Register as part of a republishing agreement offered by Oklahoma Watch.

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