TWO Oklahoma jails could face closure if their operators don't upgrade the facilities

Saturday, June 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Two Oklahoma jails face possible closure if their operators don't upgrade the facilities to state standards.

The state Department of Health and the Oklahoma Fire Marshal's Office ordered Payne County officials to reduce the number of inmates to 54 or the jail would be shut down within 48 hours.

To that end, Payne County District Judge Donald L. Worthington said he worked closely with Judge Phillip Corley and officials from the sheriff's office when deciding which 32 inmates to release from the Payne County Jail on Wednesday.

``We spent from approximately four in the afternoon until eight in the evening looking over the list of inmates,'' he said. ``The sheriff's office was extremely thorough in the information they had about these people.''

The jail population climbed to 103 over the Memorial Day weekend. Sheriff Carl Hiner received the directive Tuesday and contacted Worthington for help in determining which inmates would pose the least threat to the community.

Thirty-one of those released face felony charges. One inmate was being held on a misdemeanor charge.

``We released no persons who were charged with violent crimes,'' Worthington said.

Most were charged with drug-related offenses. Twenty of the inmates released were awaiting trial on drug-related offenses; nine inmates were sent to other jurisdictions where they face other charges and 12 were released from jail sentences and ordered to serve house arrest.

In Sayre, Oklahoma's chief jail inspector told residents at town meetings this week that they would have to fix the Beckham County jail or he would close it.

``I gave them the truth,'' said Don Garrison, director of the Jail Inspection Division of the State Health Department. ``In that jail, there's not anything that meets state standards.''

The jail has needed repair for years, he said, but he has been lenient because he knew county commissioners were planning to impose a seven-tenths of a cent sales tax and build a new jail. The issue goes before voters June 12.

``I told them that if you don't pass the sales tax and you don't have another plan, we'll have to shut down the jail,'' Garrison said.

The sales tax would run for 15 years, unless the county pays off the proposed $5.8 million jail early. After the 15 years, the county would continue to collect a quarter-cent sales tax to operate the jail.

Garrison told his audiences he has recommended to the state attorney general to close the Johnston County jail, where voters have rejected two efforts to raise money for a new one.

The original Beckham County Jail was built in 1911 and a new wing was added in 1964. It has a legal capacity of 28, but the facility is usually filled with more than 40 prisoners. One weekend, it had as many as 66 in it.

``This jail thing is becoming a crisis,'' Sheriff Scott Jay said. ``Yesterday (Thursday), we had six females in one cell that is meant for two.

``We had them on the floor. We do what we have to do.''

Other problems include water pipes leaking and raw sewage sometimes backing up into the jail, Jay said. Thirty-two inmates use one shower head.

``It is a pit,'' he said.

The proposed jail would have 98 beds, with room for 16 women.

If Garrison closes the jail, Jay said, the county would have to take prisoners to other counties, as it has done on occasion. In the last seven months, the sheriff's department has spent $38,000 housing inmates in other counties, he said.