Sheriff begins sending prisoners out of county

jail 2 web

Jail overcrowded months after new addition completed

By Ray Dyer

It didn’t take long for the new Canadian County Jail to hit the overcrowded button.

On Monday, Sheriff Randall Edwards received permission from commissioners to move 40 prisoners to Pottawatomie County. Edwards said the jail had 228 prisoners as of Monday. The capacity for the jail is 194.

The county spent $4.6 million to build the new dormitory-style jail which opened in late November. The extra jail space was necessary because the county constantly exceeded the capacity of the jail that was built in the 1980s. That jail had a capacity of 72 prisoners. State jail inspectors and state fire marshals were threatening to close the jail if the county did not address the situation.

Twice county voters rejected plans to build much larger jails. Both issues were tied to sales tax hikes. Commissioners then followed Edwards’ original suggestion which was to expand the existing jail. Funding came from savings in not sending inmates out of county, as well as the implementation of a county use tax that could be tapped if needed.

But Edwards said with the growth Canadian County is experiencing, the expansion was basically filled before it opened.

“In 2008, Canadian County had a population of 112,000. Today we’re at 130,000,” Edwards said.

The sheriff said 29 of the inmates being held here are bound for the state prison system. They were all convicted of crimes committed in Canadian County, but because state prisons are also filled to capacity, they are held in the county jail until state space opens up.

Edwards said the Department of Corrections has indicated six of the prisoners will be moved out of Canadian County by Thursday, but when the others will move is not yet known.

“The DOC gets them at their leisure and their convenience,” Edwards said.

Canadian County will pay Pottawatomie County $20 per day for each inmate housed there. Edwards projected the cost would add up to about $12,000 by the end of the month. The current fiscal year ends June 30. If the situation has not cleared up by then, a new agreement will have to be made because of the start of the new fiscal year, Edwards said.

The sheriff said commissioners need to act soon to begin Phase II of the jail expansion. He said Phase II would duplicate the most recent expansion, but would cost less because the kitchen and laundry built in Phase I will also serve Phase II.

Edwards said Phase II would probably cost in the neighborhood of $3.5 to $4 million. He said the plans are basically the same as Phase I. Edwards said the project would need to be bid and a funding method identified. He predicted it would take “a minimum of 18 months” and more like two years before “we could get into it.”

Edwards said while some are talking about the need for a new county fairgrounds, “the reality is we’ve got a jail that needs more beds.”

Phase II, Edwards said, would boost the number of beds to 314.

“I think if we had that number of beds we’d be in good shape for at least seven to eight years,” Edwards said. He said Oklahoma guidelines suggest four jail beds for every 1,000 people living in a county.

The jail census has consistently been “above the 200 mark” since the jail expansion was opened. Edwards said it spiked this week to 228.

“On May 11 we were 22 over,” he said.  “We haven’t gone below 200,” he said.