LAWTON – Because the Comanche County jail constantly exceeds its authorized capacity of inmates, “We may have to come up with a long-term contract” with another agency to house excess detainees, Western District County Commissioner Alvin Cargill announced Monday.
“We need to be thinking about how to structure” such an agreement, “figure out what we need to do moving forward,” he said.
For years the Comanche County Detention Center (CCDC) has consistently surpassed its authorized capacity of 283 inmates – a level that was set by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).
Until the coronavirus outbreak, the CCDC was “always 60 to 80 detainees over” that limit, Administrator Bill Hobbs told the Comanche County commissioners recently.
For example, the CCDC inmate population on Dec. 13, 2019, was 347, an OSDH official told the Ledger. And the jail’s website showed that 340 inmates were confined in the CCDC on May 17, 2020.
“We keep five years of jail inspection records,” Shelley Zumwalt, then spokesperson for the State Health Department, told the Ledger on May 19. The CCDC has been cited for deficiencies in the last five years “and they have repeated deficiencies for being overcapacity,” she said.
INMATE HEAD COUNT LOWERED BY STATE DUE TO CORONAVIRUS
Approximately 150 inmates and staff members were diagnosed with the coronavirus earlier this year. Consequently, former State Health Commissioner Gary Cox issued a “Quarantine Compliance Order” for the CCDC on May 16.
Four days later, scores of uninfected CCDC inmates were transferred to state prisons: men to North Fork Correctional Center at Sayre; women to Mabel Bassett Correctional Center near McLoud.
In their absence DOC personnel assisted CCDC staff in disinfecting and sanitizing the county jail. More than 200 CCDC inmates were returned to the county jail on June 23 and June 24, according to Justin Wolf, the DOC’s communications and governmental relations director.
Under the terms of the compliance order, the Comanche County was instructed to suspend admission of new inmates until the state health commissioner “determines the individuals under the quarantine” in the CCDC “are no longer deemed by the Commissioner to be “a threat to public health...”
Currently no CCDC inmates are infected with COVID-19, Hobbs told the Ledger last Monday. “Any active cases would be segregated, and if hospitalization were needed they would be taken to Comanche County Memorial Hospital” in Lawton, he said.
In a letter dated June 24, Barry Edwards, manager of the OSDH Detention Program, directed Hobbs to “identify to the [OSDH] your plan to address the relocation of inmates in an amount sufficient to correct” the overcrowding.
“Specifically, this plan should address actions to resume operations with a census that does not exceed 95% of your rated capacity and allows sufficient cells for three 14-day cohorting groups of future detainees. Your plan should include the steps you will take to correct the deficiency, how you will maintain compliance with the facility’s rated capacity and the expected date of compliance.”
Limiting the number of inmates to no more than 95% of capacity will reduce the CCDC detainee head count to 269. The unused space will remain in reserve should the need to quarantine inmates arise again, Hobbs said.
In a “Plan of Correction,” which the Comanche County commissioners, acting as the county Facilities Authority, approved on Aug. 10, the CCDC agreed to maintain the jail population at “not to exceed 95%” of the rated capacity through the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic “to allow space” for segregating inmates who test positive for the coronavirus.
All detainees above the 95% threshold will be housed at whatever facility the CCDC “has a contract to do so.” The Comanche County Facilities Authority “will strive to maintain a contract with other counties or trust authorities to ensure space is available to house detainees as needed,” the three county commissioners pledged.
NEW ARRESTEES HOUSED IN TILLMAN COUNTY JAIL
The CCDC remains under the health commissioner’s quarantine order and “therefore is not accepting new arrestees,” the Plan of Correction relates. Consequently, Comanche County has ‘out- sourced’ its new detainees to the Tillman County Jail since mid-May.
Comanche County commissioners signed an agreement to pay $45 per day for each inmate lodged in the Tillman County Jail. The bill has surpassed $120,000, invoices show.
The Frederick county jail housed 25 Comanche County inmates in May, for periods ranging from two days to 13; 85 Comanche County inmates in June, for periods ranging from one day to 30; and 135 Comanche County inmates in July, for periods ranging from one day to 31, documents show.
Incarcerating Comanche County prisoners at the medium-security jail in Frederick, which is about 47 miles southwest of Lawton, “keeps us local,” Hobbs said.
Also, the Tillman County Jail, built in 1999, has sufficient space to accommodate Comanche County’s needs at the moment.
The Tillman County Jail has a maximum capacity of 107 detainees, Jail Administrator Mike Logan said. Tillman County can take up to 80 prisoners at a time from Comanche County, Hobbs said Monday. “That leaves room for 27 for us,” Logan confirmed Tuesday.
Furthermore, “We need contract beds more than anything,” Logan said. Suspects arrested for “anything but serious crimes” are being released from custody on their own recognizance, he said.
The CCDC head count Monday was 209 detainees, and 75 others were incarcerated in the Tillman County Jail, for a combined total of 284 inmates, Hobbs told the Comanche County commissioners.
Twenty-eight of those detainees were convicts awaiting transfer into the custody of the state Corrections Department, Hobbs said.
He said the proposed correction plan was sent to Edwards, and if he endorses the proposal, it will be forwarded to the new state health commissioner, Col. Lance T. Frye, M.D., for final approval.
‘WE WORK HARD TO CONTROL CONTRABAND’ ENTERING COUNTY JAIL
In a related matter, the mother of a CCDC inmate sent an email to the Ledger in which she alleged that “drugs are rampant” in the jail and inmates are “snorting their psych meds.”
“We work hard to control contraband coming into the jail,” Hobbs responded.
“We inspect all mail coming into the jail. We do not allow packages to come in without inspections for contraband. Officers coming into the jail can, and will be, searched at any time. Officers’ vehicles are subject to be searched, as well,” Hobbs said.
Areas outside around the jail are inspected, too, he said, “because over the years we have intercepted numerous drops outside of the jail.”
Inside the detention center, random cell searches are conducted to control contraband.
“Some inmates have tried to conceal their own medication to barter with other inmates,” Hobbs said. The jail’s medical section “stores and dispenses all medication and monitors inmates while they take their medication.”
Nevertheless, he acknowledged, “It is possible that some inmates are successful at concealing the taking of their medication.”