Efforts underway to relieve crowding in detention center

  • Crowding in detention center
    Crowding in detention center

OKLAHOMA CITY – Two state agencies are taking steps to remove as many inmates as possible from the Comanche County Detention Center until the coronavirus that has ravaged the jail is brought under control.

The Comanche County Facilities Authority held a brief meeting Wednesday morning to ink an agreement with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) to transfer COVID-negative inmates to a state prison immediately. The Facilities Authority oversees the jail’s operations, and Bill Hobbs is the detention center administrator.

The specific prison chosen for the transfer will be decided at that meeting, said Justin Wolf, the Corrections Department’s communications and government relations director.

Meanwhile, Tressa Williams of Lawton and her colleagues in the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System are working behind the scenes to get several nonviolent inmates released from the detention center this week, if possible.

In addition, Comanche County officials also have held discussions with their counterparts in neighboring Tillman County about “taking 20 to 25 of our new inmates” for a limited time, County Commissioner Gail Turner said Sunday and County Commissioner Alvin Cargill confirmed Monday.

Nearly a dozen security staff led by Mike Carpenter, DOC’s director of institutions, arrived at the Comanche County jail Sunday “to help stabilize the facility and ramp up sanitization efforts” after 126 inmates and detention center staff members tested positive for COVID-19, Wolf said Tuesday. The ODOC team is onsite to lend assistance and advice.

The Department of Corrections has not taken control of the jail, contrary to a local media story Tuesday, Wolf said. Corrections Department personnel “remain on-site helping advise staff on correctional ‘best practices’ during the pandemic,” he said.

The CCDC is designed to hold a maximum of 283 inmates, according to the State Health Department. As of Sunday night, 340 inmates were confined in the facility, the jail’s website showed.

The Comanche County Detention Center is holding seven inmates awaiting ODOC intake, two of whom have tested positive, DOC Director Scott Crow said.

“ODOC had a plan in place when the pandemic migrated to Oklahoma, allowing us to keep the number of infected inmates in state facilities to only two of nearly 24,000,” Director Crow said. “We welcome the opportunity to advise jail staff on how they can enhance their response to prevent further spread.”

The DOC team was sent to Lawton after Mayor Stan Booker called Gov. Kevin Stitt directly, the Southwest Ledger confirmed. In turn, Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating and DOC Director Scott Crow, a Cameron University graduate, were contacted, too. As were Duncan native Jari Askins, director of the state courts system, and state Attorney General Mike Hunter, the Ledger learned.

State Health Commissioner Gary Cox placed the Comanche County Detention Center under quarantine Saturday “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 compliance letter dated May 16.