OKLAHOMA CITY – A surge of coronavirus infections and deaths has stricken local jails and state prisons throughout the U.S., prompting officials to shut down some institutions completely and transfer their inmates elsewhere.
Bill Hobbs, administrator of the Comanche County Detention Center, can relate to the disruption caused by the coronavirus. The CCDC had the same experience last year.
Because of a coronavirus outbreak in which more than 120 inmates and staff members were infected, all visitation was suspended temporarily and the jail was placed under a Quarantine Compliance Order by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). That mandate extended for nearly four months, between May 16 and September 2, 2020.
During that period the CCDC was instructed to refrain from accepting any more inmates until the Commissioner of Health deemed it safe to admit new detainees. Ultimately approximately 200 detainees who tested negative for the virus were housed for up to a month in state prisons: women at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center near McLoud, men in the North Fork Correctional Center at Sayre.
An agreement between the Comanche County Facilities Authority and the Corrections Department stipulated that the DOC would receive $27 per day for each of the Comanche County inmates it housed during that period. The state agency was compensated from federal Coronavirus Relief Funds paid through the federal CARES Act.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections sent a security detail to Lawton to help stabilize the CCDC and assist in sanitizing the facility. ODOC personnel remained on-site helping advise the jail staff on correctional best practices during the pandemic.
OSDH LIMITS CCDC POPULATION
Afterward, the manager of the OSDH Detention Program limited the number of inmates in the CCDC to no more than 95% of capacity; the unused space is to remain in reserve for quarantine of inmates who test positive for the virus.
Since the jail’s rated capacity is 283 inmates, the maximum permissible number of inmates, at least for the foreseeable future, is 269. Since May 19, 2020, any detainees above that number have been sent to the Tillman County Law Enforcement Center at Frederick.
The Tillman County jail, built in 1999, can house a maximum of 107 detainees, Administrator Mike Logan said. Tillman County can handle as many as 80 prisoners at a time from Comanche County, Logan said. The Tillman County jail had 48 detainees from Comanche County on Monday, Logan told the Ledger.
Comanche County pays Tillman County $45 per day for each inmate confined in the Frederick jail.
Hobbs issued a mask edict on April 16, 2020, mandating: “You must wear a mask at all times while in the building... You must wear your mask over your mouth and nose.”
A month later he served notice that he meant business, circulating this email to the CCDC staff: “As of May 14, 2020, if an employee is seen not wearing a mask while in the building, you will be sent home 3 days without pay.”
Hobbs also instructed the CCDC staff to sanitize their telephone, computer keyboard and mouse “after each use,” and sanitize inmate ’phones in the booking area “when going from cell to cell.”
During the past four months since the coronavirus outbreak was finally contained, the CCDC has logged 23 positive cases of COVID-19, Hobbs reported Tuesday.
Of those, 22 recovered and were placed in the custody of the Corrections Department, released on bond, or discharged after completing their court-ordered jail sentence. “We have one positive inmate here now, quarantined and monitored by our medical staff,” Hobbs said.
Incoming detainees are tested for COVID-19 “if they fail our screening,” he said. If the symptoms are severe the detainee is transported to Comanche County Memorial Hospital in Lawton “for further treatment,” Hobbs said. “To date we have had no inmates who required hospitalization for COVID-19,” he added.
COMANCHE, TILLMAN JAILS TESTING NEW DETAINEES
“We are working with the Comanche County Health Department to get our staff the COVID-19 vaccine,” Hobbs said. Inmates who request it “will have a chance to receive the vaccine, too.”
The CCDC also tests for Influenza A and B strains, and offers free flu shots to inmates and staff “if they want it,” Hobbs said.
The Comanche County Detention Center spent at least $9,500 in March, April and May last year on various healthcare supplies, records show. The purchases included toilet paper, hand sanitizer, hand soap, gloves, disinfectant spray, disinfecting wipes, face masks, and a thermometer. The CCDC also paid $4,796 for more than 300 COVID-19 test kits, which cost approximately $14 each, Hobbs said.
The Tillman County jail has had only five inmates test positive for the coronavirus, but in November the staff “took a big hit,” Logan said. None of the infected inmates was from Comanche County, he said. “They were guys brought in off the street.”
Tillman County tests all incoming detainees “before we put them in the general population,” Logan said. “We have cells blocked off” for any inmate who needs to be quarantined, he said.