Health Dept. sends Okmulgee County officials order to bring jail into compliance

Thursday, January 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKMULGEE, Okla. (AP) _ The Okmulgee County Jail will be closed if county officials can't bring the facility into compliance, state Health Department officials said Wednesday.

County commissioners and Sheriff Ernest Arocha were sent an administrative order Monday to cease jail operations immediately until deficiencies at the overcrowded facility can be corrected, jail inspector Don Garrison said.

If officials don't comply, the jail could be subject to fines of $500 per violation per day, Garrison said.

The county has 15 days to appeal the order, during which the jail can continue operating while the necessary improvements are made, officials said.

A Jan. 15 inspection found 15 violations, including cockroaches in cells, worms in the shower, unsanitized mattresses, plumbing leaks and broken windows.

``Obviously, they don't want to do anything more than they have to,'' County Commissioner Roger Ballenger said of Health Department officials. ``But they want some good, positive response. We feel comfortable that we can keep this thing operating until we get a new jail.''

The new $8.5 million facility, which will be funded by a county sales tax, is scheduled to open May 1, Ballenger said.

District Attorney Tom Giulioli said county officials and the Health Department plan to meet soon. If the state agency is satisfied with the county's progress, a hearing possibly could be avoided, Giulioli said.

``The Health Department has indicated to me that they are more interested in having the problems corrected than shutting down the jail,'' he said.

Ballenger said several thousand dollars has been spent in the past year on trying to fix problems with the jail, which was built more than 80 years ago.

But since funds already are committed to the new facility, the county has been reluctant to spend money on the old lockup, which is on the fourth floor of the courthouse, he said.