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Comanche County Jail ordered to reduce inmate population


LAWTON, Okla. (AP) _ The Comanche County Jail will have to close if it does not reduce its inmate population within 10 days, a state fire marshal said.

State Fire Marshal Robert Doke said an order telling the jail to reduce the number of inmates to 108 was sent to Sheriff Kenny Stradley. The jail had 148 inmates Friday.

Comanche County, long faced with overcrowding at its jail, is building a new facility.

The order cites three dates in March when a state fire marshal agent inspected the jail and found code violations. It says a fire at the jail would seriously endanger inmates, jailers and property.

The sheriff and county commissioners are required to submit a plan to reduce occupancy within 10 days.

``Failure to comply with the Order of the State Fire Marshal may result in the closing or demolition of said building and all materials removed and all dangerous conditions remedied,'' the order said.

State and local officials said they believe the county can reduce the inmate population and prevent closing the jail.

``I believe if we get the number below 120, it will show a good-faith effort,'' said state Rep. Jim Glover, D-Elgin.

Glover said ways to reduce the inmate population include persuading inmates to plead out their cases, transporting inmates to the state Department of Corrections and not putting people accused of misdemeanors in jail.

District Attorney Robert Schulte said he is recommending community service instead of jail time for some defendants.

``We have to find ways to keep the county jail,'' Schulte said. ``We can't have it close.''

The sheriff said people charged with a crime belong behind bars.

There were 43 inmates in the jail Monday who were convicted or charged with misdemeanors and 112 people held on felony charges.

Stradley said he considered transporting inmates to other county jails. But he said other counties would charge more than Comanche County can afford to pay.

The sheriff estimates Comanche County pays about $20 per day per inmate.

Tillman County Sheriff Bill Hanes said his jail charges $31 per prisoner per day for housing another county's inmates. And even if Comanche County could pay that much, Tillman County doesn't have room in its jail for another county's inmates.

The jail had three beds available Friday.

The state fire marshal said jail overcrowding is a problem throughout Oklahoma.

``I'm thrilled Comanche County is building a new jail,'' he said. ``Counties that are having troubles that can finance a new jail can see the light at the end of the tunnel.''

Doke said he believes county officials will meet the 10-day deadline to reduce jail population.

``It's not our goal to close the jail down; that's a last resort,'' he said. ``We want to be a resource to give direction to reduce the number of inmates.''
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