Jail study locked down

By Traci Chapman
Published on November 8, 2008

An assessment of county law enforcement operations is scheduled for January, and county officials say they hope it will “light the way” in finding a solution to the problems plaguing the jail.

Sheriff-elect Randall Edwards approached commissioners last week and asked them to sign a letter requesting the study, which will be conducted by agents with the National Institute of Corrections. NIC is a federal agency that provides training and assistance to correctional agencies across the country, Edwards said.

The assessment is free, and there is no obligation for county officials to accept the NIC agents’ recommendations, he said.

“There’s no reason not to take advantage of this resource,” Edwards said. “This program is an invaluable resource for us. They will provide agents to come and conduct an assessment of both our current jail and our future needs, and all of the services come at no cost.”

Oklahoma Jail Inspector Don Garrison and Warden Hector Ladezma at the Federal Correctional Institution in El Reno encouraged Edwards to take advantage of the NIC program, he said. Garrison said last week the recommendations from NIC agents could help not only county officials, but also members of the committee appointed to study options for bringing a successful proposal — for a new expanded jail — to voters.

“I’ve seen these studies, and they really are a valuable resource,” Garrison said. “It’s a win-win situation because there is no cost, and you really can choose to take the recommendations you feel are best for your particular facility.”

Edwards tentatively scheduled the assessment for the first two weeks of Januar, immediately after he takes office, he said. He approached commissioners about signing on for the study because NIC required the signature of two of the three commissioners.
District 1 Commissioner Phil Carson, District 2 Commissioner Don Young and Commissioner-elect David Anderson all gave the thumbs-up for the assessment, he said.

District 3 Commissioner Grant Hedrick abstained from signing the form Monday. He said he still had questions about moving forward with the assessment after speaking to Sheriff Lewis Hawkins. Hawkins said federal agents had “no place” in county jails, and he said even taking part in the study opened up the county to potential lawsuits.

“If we don’t go with all of their recommendations, we are looking at lawsuits because we didn’t do what they said,” he said Friday. “They are not coming into my jail or into my department. It’s none of the feds’ business what goes on here, and they have no place in county jails.”

Commissioners formed the jail steering committee in July to study the county’s options after voters rejected a $24.8 million jail, which would have been funded by a sales tax increase. That tax hike, which would have peaked at .35 of a cent during construction, then scaled back to a one-fourth cent permanent increase to fund jail operations, was not the answer in the minds of county residents, Edwards said.

“The voters obviously said we were trying to follow the wrong course,” he said. “Also, citizens said ‘no’ to the jail before the economy started settling back in a more negative direction. We have to keep that in mind as well.”

Committee members agreed last week to hold off on their recommendations until the study could be completed, chairman Jim Crosby said. Members initially planned to present their opinions to commissioners in late October.

Crosby said he anticipates the committee to take that step “probably in February,” depending on how quickly the federal review can be completed and analyzed by committee members.

“There’s no point in giving recommendations until all of the information is in,” he said. “We decided to wait and let the assessment come in and then present our findings.”


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