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COMMISSIONERS approve spending money to remodel church to hold inmates

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ Payne County commissioners approved spending $994,300 Monday to remodel a former church to help ease overcrowding at the jail.

Each jail bed will cost about $26,165, but that is still cheaper than boarding county prisoners elsewhere, County Commissioner Bill Deering said.

Deering said Commissioners Gloria Hesser and Jim Arthur joined him in wondering whether a nearly $1 million project for a temporary jail was worthwhile, but none found a better option.

The former church, shaped like a half cylinder, is located two blocks from the current courthouse and its 54-inmate jail.

Jail overcrowding has been a problem for years, but an influx of more than 100 inmates on Memorial Day only made things worse. The state jail inspector ordered officials to reduce the jail population to 54 or the facility would be closed.

In the following days, District Judge Don Worthington released 19 inmates on personal recognizance pending trials on major and minor drug charges, larceny, assault, burglary, embezzlement and drunken driving.

Another eight serving jail time were released to house arrest, and four were shipped to the state prison system.

The remodeling will take at least 10 months before the church-to-jail is ready to receive its 12 female and 26 male inmates, Deering said.

If Payne County ever decides to build a new jail, Deering said the remodeled facility can still be used to house juveniles, who now have to be taken to other state facilities.

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