Officials Considering Merging Jail Operations

Wednesday, February 14th 2007, 9:00 am
By: News On 6

Officials Considering Merging Jail Operations

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) City and county officials in Lawton will begin negotiations next week about whether to merge their costly and crowded jails.

Lawton city officials and Comanche County commissioners discussed sharing expenses and space several years ago, but talks broke down over how much control the city would have over bed costs, City Manager Larry Mitchell said.

"Really, I think the county and the city should have been much more serious about working out an agreement back then," Mitchell said. "Now, I think both sides have motivation because of the spacing problems."

The city operates a 50-bed lockup that is constantly overcrowded, Mitchell said.

"Some people are getting wise to the situation," he said. "So when they come before the magistrate, they refuse to pay a fine and take the jail time instead.

"So they then end up staying a day and half before being released because of the overcrowding. That way they have avoided a $750 fine."

Overcrowding also is a problem at the 3-year-old Comanche County jail.

Of the county jail's 283 beds, 44 are reserved for a state Corrections Department contract.

If officials decide to merge operations, the county could drop the state contract and reduce its revenue, while absorbing the city's prisoners, said Gail Turner, chairman of the county commissioners.

In turn, the city would pay a designated fee to house its prisoners and the taxpayer would pay for one jail instead of two.

"I'm sure there is overlap," Mitchell said. "How much? Twenty percent? Fifteen percent? I'm not sure. If an agreement were reached, I'm sure we would do a joint feasibility study."

Additional bed space could also be created if the old vacant county jail were fixed up.

"Everything is so preliminary at this point," Turner said. "But these are options we will all be looking at."