Oklahoma County jail bursting at seams, needs $120 million

The Oklahoma County Jail is where illegal immigrants will be put after November when the new anti-illegal immigration bill, signed this year into law by Gov. Brad Henry, will take effect, if it is enforced. It's where the mentally ill often end up, now that we have no more long-term mental health institutions.

But it's also where the bad guys are. According to Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel's office, 18 percent of Oklahoma County Jail inmates are minimum security, and the rest are medium to maximum security, requiring they be removed from the community at large for the safety of Oklahoma County residents.

Despite the intimidating looks, the jail is coming apart at the seams, county officials contend. Originally " and badly, according to many " designed for 1,200 inmates, it currently houses about 2,600, including anywhere from 300 to 350 waiting for state prisons that are also too full, with as many as 70 percent of the inmates "triple-celled," in violation of state jail code.

A recent study by the county describes an institution at the crisis level: understaffed, overused, a disaster waiting to happen.

The solution? Build a bigger jail, according to the new study. Commissioned by an Oklahoma County Jail task force in 2005, and updated in March, the report recommends adding an annex " a building next to the current jail " which would house an additional 1,200 inmates in minimum and medium security, dormitory-style units.

And, it will cost $120 million to build and $38 million a year to run, according to Oklahoma County Commissioner Ray Vaughn.

"This is something we've got to do. There is no real choice. Public safety is at risk here," Vaughn said. "Crime rates are dropping, and this is why " it's because the bad guys are off the street. We want to keep it that way. Unfortunately, there are more and more bad guys. In order to provide safety for the citizens, we are going to have to pay the price." "Ben Fenwick


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