LAWTON – A proposed “plan of correction” that would enable Comanche County to resume accepting prisoners at the detention center in Lawton was endorsed unanimously by the county commissioners.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) conducted comprehensive testing of inmates and personnel at the Comanche County Detention Center (CCDC) on May 7-8. Of approximately 363 tests administered by the OSDH, at least 109 inmates and 17 staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.
Consequently, former State Health Commissioner Gary Cox issued a “Quarantine Compliance Order” for the CCDC three months ago, on May 16.
Under the terms of that order and among other directives, the county was instructed to suspend acceptance 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...”
Further, if the CCDC “chooses not to comply with any portion of this Order, the Commissioner of Health may seek legal action in the District Court,” Cox warned.
The county was instructed to work with the health commissioner “to implement additional protocols to correct deficiencies” that were identified during inspections of the CCDC three times last year. Those inspections were conducted on Jan. 16, Oct. 2 and Dec. 13.
On all three occasions the CCDC was found to be out of compliance with the Oklahoma Administrative Code’s City and County Detention Facility Standards for rated capacity, Barry Edwards, manager of the OSDH Detention Program, wrote in a letter to CCDC Administrator Bill Hobbs on June 24.
The CCDC inmate population on Dec. 13, 2019, was 347, Edwards told the Ledger. The jail’s website showed that 340 inmates were confined in the CCDC on May 17.
“We keep five years of jail inspection records,” Shelley Zumwalt, then-spokesperson for the State Health De- partment, 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.
“We’re always 60 to 80 detainees over” the authorized capacity, Hobbs told the Comanche County commissioners recently.
In fact, until the state quarantine order was issued, the Comanche County jail had exceeded its authorized capacity continuously for at least 13 years.
CCDC STILL UNDER QUARANTINE ORDER
The CCDC remains under the health commissioner’s quarantine order and “therefore is not accepting new arrestees,” the facility’s Plan of Correction relates.
County health officials pointed to the facility’s excess head count and the inability to segregate new detainees for a 14-day quarantine as “contributing factors” in the administration being unable to control the COVID-19 outbreak, Edwards wrote in his June 24 letter to Hobbs.
However, J.P. Richard, chairman of the Comanche County Excise Board, said Monday that county and state inmates are intentionally infecting each other “in a misguided attempt to ‘get out of jail free’.”
In May, scores of inmates from the CCDC who tested negative for COVID-19 were transferred to state prisons. Male inmates were sent to the North Fork prison at Sayre and female inmates were sent to the Mabel Bassett prison near McLoud.
Ultimately, 180 men and 31 women from the CCDC were transferred to state Department of Corrections custody temporarily, according to Justin Wolf, spokesman for the DOC. That left the CCDC as a quarantine center for infected inmates.
The transfers to DOC relieved the immediate pressure on the jail, and enabled DOC personnel to “deep clean” and disinfect the detention center.
The women inmates were returned to the CCDC from Mabel Bassett on June 23, and the men were returned from North Fork on June 24, Wolf said.
COUNTY JAIL INMATE COUNT LIMITED TO 269
Edwards 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.”
Years ago, the state Health Department established a maximum authorized capacity of 283 inmates for the Comanche County Detention Center. Limiting the number of inmates to no more than 95% of capacity will reduce the detainee head count to 269.
The unused space will remain in reserve should the need to quarantine inmates arise again, Hobbs said.
In the “Plan of Correction” the CCDC agrees 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 from detainees who test negative.
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 Comanche County commissioners pledged.
The CCDC head count Monday was 219 detainees (193 men and 26 women), and 64 others were incarcerated in the Tillman County Jail, for a combined total of 283 inmates, Hobbs told the Comanche County commissioners Monday. Twenty of those were convicts awaiting transfer to the custody of the state Corrections Department, Hobbs said.
COUNTY OFFICIALS TO COLLABORATE ON SOLVING ISSUES
In addition, the Comanche County Board of Commissioners, CCDC Administrator Hobbs, district judges, the office of District Attorney Fred Smith and the Indigent Defense System “will collaborate to address procedural issues that will assist in alleviating overcrowding” at the county jail.
The CCDC “will keep an open line of communication” with prosecutors, defense attorneys and district judges in reference to “inmates having low bonds and unable to bond out” of jail.
The detention center also will work with the judiciary “to set accelerated plea dockets,” Hobbs said. The CCDC “will recommend for judicial consideration those inmates for whom recognizance bond or bond reduction” does not present apparent flight risk or jeopardize public safety, he said.
Hobbs also said he will ensure that the CCDC has a “sufficient stock” of hygiene supplies (such as hand soap, hand sanitizer, paper towels and toilet paper) and personal protective equipment (primarily masks and gloves).
He also said the medical staff will conduct “frequent screening of inmate health,” will isolate detainees who become symptomatic and will “trace close contacts where possible.”
The Plan of Correction “will be followed and reviewed bi-annually to amend as conditions deem necessary,” Hobbs said. And although Comanche County “has no control over the number of arrests and charges filed on any given day,” the CCDC “will, within reason, abide by the plan.”
The expected date of full compliance with the OSDH edicts will be Aug. 24, Hobbs said.
The proposed Plan of Correction is “a generic plan” that was reviewed and approved by Assistant District Attorney Kyle Cabelka, County Commissioner Alvin Cargill told his colleagues Monday.
Hobbs said the proposed plan will be sent first to Edwards, and if he endorses the proposal, it will then be forwarded to the new state health commissioner, Col. Lance T. Frye, M.D., for final approval.