Okmulgee County leaders say the county jail is falling apart and too dangerous to continue in operation much longer. County commissioners met Thursday to discuss a plan to build a new jail, which involves a half-cent sales tax.
Inmates keep coming and jailers say they don't have anywhere to put them. They say the jail is falling apart. Water coolers are used to cool overcrowded cells. Poor plumbing and outdated electrical wiring plague the building. The jail was built 84 years ago and was equipped to hold 45 inmates. Sheriff Audie Cole says the jail now houses from 85 to 90 people per day. He says that's dangerous for everyone. "We can't segregate the bad criminals from the misdemeanor criminals and the murderers from the rapists," he said. "The old cells are just worn out."
Dozens of people have escaped from the jail. Both men and women have destroyed doors and walls attempting to escape. County commissioners say the facility is not equipped to hold inmates the way it should. "With the laws the way they are today and the civil rights and personal rights of prisoners being such an issue, we're not able to properly lock them up and deal with them," said county commissioner Roger Ballenger.
Jail problems have been building for years. County officials tried to get something done back in 1997, but failed. Many county residents say they were in favor of the new jail then and they still are. "I do believe the bottom line is, we have to do something about it," said jail supporter Kenny Powders. "We have a serious problem and it has been adversely affecting our growth."
The county hopes to pass a 20-year half-cent sales tax. It will fund the building of an $8,000,000 facility which would hold 144 inmates. Ballenger says the new facility would take care of the county's lockup needs for the next 15 to 20 years.