Tulsa Officials Ask Voters To Help Fund Jail Improvements

Tuesday, March 11th 2014, 11:41 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsa County Officials are getting the word out about an upcoming special election, less than a month away, to fund critical improvements to its overcrowded jails. Officials need more than $50 million to fund these projects.

There simply isn't any more room at the jail, and down the street at the juvenile facility. Officials say if this tax isn't passed by voters to build the new facilities, the feds will step in and make it happen anyway.

Tulsa County Commissioner, Karen Keith, said, "Every nook and cranny is filled with somebody."

Designed and built more than 50 years ago, the juvenile detention center is overflowing, needing a new home for its inmates. Keith has been pushing for a new center with more cells, courtrooms and administrative offices.

She said the old detention center is putting staff members and the 5,000 juvenile inmates that come through the doors at risk.

"It's not fair to our employees that work there, it's not fair to the clients that have to go in there, it's not fair to a child who is neglected and abused and kids who are up for adoption," Keith said.

The jail where adult inmates are housed needs more beds too.

"We are the largest provider for mental healthcare and it's not a very good situation," said Keith.

Officials say a third of the jail's inmates are being treated with psychotropic drugs for mental illness.

In April's election, Tulsa Count voters will be asked to fund a new jail wing downtown to take care of these inmates and a new juvenile facility.

"The need for the facility is real it's the need for the borrowing,--further taxation of the citizenry that's the question," said David Oldham, with Citizens for a Better Vision.

Oldham and his group, Citizens for a Better Vision, don't believe in more tax dollars funding county projects like jail improvements.

"We believe if we vote this down that the money will come from the ether," Oldham said.

Organizers at Tuesday's public forum are hopeful officials will clarify any concerns citizens have about the April 1st vote.

TulsaNow President, Carlos Moreno, said, "Transparency and having that public discussion where we haven't chosen one side or another before we start talking,"

County officials say Tulsans will be renewing this tax, and those who live outside the city limits will be reinstating an old tax to fund these projects, which will be funded over a 15-year time span.

If voters fail to pass the sales tax, the federal government could impose sanctions on the county forcing it to collect other taxes to bring the jail up to its standards.