LAWTON – After three and a half months, the state Health Commissioner dismissed his quarantine order imposed on the Comanche County Detention Center (CCDC) because of a coronavirus outbreak and persistent overcrowding.
“We’re back in business,” jail administrator Bill Hobbs told the Comanche County commissioners Tuesday morning. “As of Sept. 2 we’ve reopened.”
Hobbs said the Health Commissioner’s release was delivered to him by Brandie Combs, Region 5 director for the State Health Department.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) filed a Quarantine Compliance Order on May 16 that directed the CCDC to “take certain measures to stop the spread of COVID-19” after 126 inmates and staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.
The offices of Gov. Kevin Stitt and state Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating were contacted by county officials for assistance in controlling the outbreak.
As a result, nearly a dozen Oklahoma Department of Corrections security staff reported to the jail on May 17 to help stabilize the facility and ramp up sanitization efforts. ODOC personnel remained on-site helping advise staff on correctional best practices during the pandemic.
In addition, scores of CCDC inmates who tested negative for the coronavirus were transferred May 20-21 to DOC institutions: women to Mabel Bassett Correctional Center near McLoud, men to the North Fork Correctional Center at Sayre. After a temporary, monthlong stay, DOC returned 31 women inmates to the CCDC on June 23, and180 males were returned to Comanche County’s custody on June 24, according to Justin Wolf, the DOC’s director of communications and government relations.
The Health Commissioner’s order mandated:
- Any person incarcerated in the CCDC for longer than 14 days must remain in isolation and quarantine “as much as possible”.
- Any jail personnel coming into contact with inmates must wear “appropriate personal protective equipment.”
- The CCDC “must work with its health care provider to ensure any person incarcerated receive adequate medical care for COVID-19 treatment.”
- Additionally, the CCDC was ordered to “suspend acceptance of new inmates until the Commissioner of Health deems such acceptance may continue.” During the interim, Comanche County was directed to make arrangements with “other incarceration and correctional facilities” to accept any new inmates.
Approves Revised Plan
Barry Edwards, manager of the OSDH Detention Program, directed Hobbs on June 24 to “identify to the [OSDH] your plan to address the relocation of inmates in an amount sufficient to correct” the overcrowding.
The CCDC has an OSDH-authorized maximum capacity of 283 inmates. Until May 16, though, the Comanche County jail had exceeded that number repeatedly for more than a decade.
Specifically, the county’s 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” should the need arise to resume quarantining, Edwards insisted. “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 maximum number of detainees 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 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 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 county commissioners pledged.
The state Health Commissioner rejected the correction plan on Aug. 19 because it didn’t include any commitment to limit the CCDC capacity to no more than 95% after the coronavirus pandemic lapses.
Comanche County Commissioner Alvin Cargill submitted a revised plan in which the Board of County Commissioners, Jail Administrator Hobbs, and “other key stakeholders” such as the district judges, the district attorney’s office and the Indigent Defense System vowed to “collaborate to address procedural issues that will assist in alleviating overcrowding” in the CCDC.
The revised correction plan also included a pledge that “all detainees above the 95% [mandatory threshold] will be housed within another contract facility.”
Housed in TillCo Jail
Comanche County has ‘outsourced’ its new detainees to the Tillman County jail since mid-May. The Comanche County commissioners renewed their agreement with Tillman County on Aug. 31 for another month.
Comanche County has agreed to pay Tillman County $45 per day for each inmate lodged in the Frederick jail.
The bill for May, June and July 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. The invoice for August has not been submitted yet, Hobbs said Tuesday.
The expense of housing Comanche County inmates in facilities other than the CCDC is “a major concern of ours,” J.P. Richard, chairman of the Comanche County Excise Board, said Tuesday. “We’re pulling that money out of our contingency fund.”
It would help if the DOC would “transport its prisoners to the state system,” Richard added. A dozen Comanche County felons were transferred to state prisons last week, and 31 other convicts in the CCDC are awaiting transfer to the DOC, Hobbs said Tuesday.
The Tillman County Jail, built in 1999, has sufficient space to accommodate Comanche County’s needs at the moment.
The Frederick jail has a maximum capacity of 107 detainees, Administrator Mike Logan said. Tillman County can take up to 80 prisoners at a time from Comanche County, Hobbs said last month. “That leaves room for 27 for us,” Logan confirmed on Aug. 18. Furthermore, “We need contract beds more than anything,” Logan said.
The CCDC head count Tuesday was 220 detainees, and 63 others were incarcerated in the Tillman County Jail, for a combined total of 283 inmates, Hobbs told the Comanche County commissioners. None of the detainees has tested positive for COVID-19, he said.
CCDC Task Force
To be Empaneled
The Comanche County commissioners, acting as the Facilities Authority, endorsed Cargill’s suggestion Tuesday to create a task force “for the purpose of informing and advising” the Authority “of any concerns as it pertains to” the CCDC.
“We want to remain in compliance with the state,” Cargill told his colleagues. Remaining at or below the 95% CCDC inmate limit “will take all of us working together to see that we stay below those numbers… which we know are going to rise and fall.”
He indicated the task force will include the commissioners themselves, Hobbs, Comanche County’s district judges, and a representative from District Attorney Fred Smith’s office.