OKLAHOMA CITY – The state Department of Corrections reported transporting 142 healthy inmates from the Comanche County Detention Center (CCDC) to state prisons on Wednesday and Thursday.
The transfers included 141 men and one woman, according to Justin Wolf, the DOC’s director of communications. The men were sent to an unoccupied unit at the North Fork Correctional Center, a state-run facility at Sayre that’s leased from a private entity, and the woman was sent to the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center near McLoud.
All of those inmates have had two consecutive negative tests for the coronavirus, and will be housed in units separate from state prisoners, Wolf said. Comanche County jail inmates who have tested positive will remain quarantined in the CCDC.
State Health Commissioner Gary Cox placed the Comanche County jail under quarantine May 16 after 126 inmates and staff members tested positive for the coronavirus. The lockdown will continue “until the Commissioner or his designee determines the individuals under the quarantine in this facility are no longer determined a threat to public health,” Cox wrote in a letter dated May 16.
In a special meeting Wednesday morning, the Comanche County Facilities Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (DOC) approved the inmate transfer agreement.
DOC Expected to Remain at County Jail 3 More Weeks
Corrections Department staff will remain at the county jail in Lawton until June 10, “helping manage infected inmates and disinfecting the building,” Wolf said.
The CCDC will retain legal custody of all of the 142 Comanche County inmates while DOC provides housing, board, and routine medical care, he said.
The Corrections Department “will seek reimbursement from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” Wolf said.
“Our Pandemic Planning Guide accounted for the potential need to quarantine a large number of inmates,” Corrections Director Scott Crow said. “Due to the agency’s success in preventing any outbreaks, we are able to share resources with our county partners.” Only two of the state’s nearly 24,000 prison inmates have tested positive for the virus, Crow said.
Movement of the inmates from the county detention center to the state prisons will drop the jail’s inmate population to approximately 200. Apparently this is the first time in several years that the CCDC population has been below its authorized maximum of 283.
As of Sunday night, 340 inmates – 57 overcapacity – were confined in the facility, the jail’s website showed.
A report by the State Department of Health indicates the Comanche County jail was “out of compliance” during three inspections the agency performed last year: in January, October and December 2019, when the inmate population was reported at 347.
In fact, the CCDC has been cited for “deficiencies” in each of the last five years “and they have repeated deficiencies for being over-capacity,” Shelley Zumwalt, spokesperson for the State Health Department, said Tuesday.
Little Can Be Done to Stop Overcrowding
Bob Ravitz, the chief public defender in Oklahoma County, indicated there is little that any agency can do about crowding in an Oklahoma jail.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health has oversight of jails “but they can’t take remedial action” for any deficiencies their inspectors find, Ravitz said.
State law provides that if a deficiency cited in an inspection report – such as consistent overcrowding – is not corrected within 60 days after delivery of the report, the State Health Commissioner “is authorized to refer the non-compliance to the Attorney General or the District Attorney.”
Attorney General Mike Hunter participated in a conference call Monday with city and county officials “to reiterate the state’s guidance on confinement,” Alex Gerszewski, the AG’s communications director, said Thursday.
Hunter “didn’t give advice on health or the management of health issues in the jail,” Gerszewski said. “He told officials that if they enter into any interlocal agreements that our office would review to ensure they align with state law.”