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Cherokee Co. Commissioners and Sheriff Battle Over Jailers

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There's a gender problem in the Cherokee County Jail. It's not with the inmates; it's with the jailers. Currently, all of the jailers working at the county jail are men. The state of Oklahoma says the county must hire women, but no one wants to come up with the funds to pay the new jailers’ salaries.

Only two women serve as county sheriffs in Oklahoma. One of them is the sheriff of Cherokee County. The jail staff is so small, there's only one jailer at night. And when women prisoners are booked in the jail, the sheriff becomes the lone female jailer. "I will be called in because a female is needed to dress out," said Cherokee County Sheriff Delena Goss.

The Oklahoma Department of Health has given county commissioners and the sheriff only 30 days to find a way to pay for four female jailers. If they don't, the county jail could be closed. Sheriff Goss has asked county commissioners for an extra $75,000. But the commissioners say the sheriff has plenty of cash. "We do think it is within her power and her department to fix the problem," said Cherokee County Commissioner G.V. Gulager.

The sheriff says her dollars have stretched as far as they can go. "To make adjustments would mean taking people off the street,” said Goss. “I won't do that myself, and I don't think we should ask the public to do that."

Even visitors to the jail say they recognize the jailer shortage is dangerous. "The jailer is putting his life on the line,” said jail visitor Lisa Ratliff. “Because all it takes is opening a door to all the other prisoners and they could overpower the jailer." Commissioners say the sheriff may have to fire some male deputies in order to pay for the women jailers.

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