Oklahoma County voters will decide on new prison funding

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County officials say design flaws at the Oklahoma County Detention Center have led to ongoing maintenance issues, making the renovation an unrealistic proposition. County commissioners have set June 28 as the date voters must consider a proposed $260 million blanket bond to fund the construction of a new county jail. (File photo)

Oklahoma County residents, it’s time to mark June 28 on your calendars.

Last week, the county’s three-member Board of Commissioners set an election date for a proposed general bond of $260 million to fund the construction of a new county jail.

Tax rates would remain stable if voters approve the measure and drop slightly if they are rejected.

The decision comes as deaths continue to pile up inside the struggling facility. Just 102 days into 2022, six people held inside the Oklahoma County Jail have died. In comparison, eight people died inside the prison in 2020.

County officials say the jail’s design flaws and ongoing maintenance issues make the renovation an unrealistic proposition. They argue that a new jail, with designated mental health and medical units, would help reduce deaths and bring the county up to state and federal standards.

Some are critical of county plans to build an 1,800-bed facility, saying authorities could build a smaller jail and use the savings to expand mental health and addiction treatment services. The current prison had an average daily population of 1,675 in March.

The new prison would cost around $300 million, below the $260 million offered by the bond. In previous meetings, county officials have floated the idea of ​​US bailout funds to pay for part of a new jail. The federal government has since stipulated that COVID-19 relief funds cannot be used to build detention centers.

Several questions about the new prison, including its location, opening date and occupancy rate, remain unanswered. FSB Architects, an Oklahoma City-based firm hired to evaluate construction and renovation options, said it would take about two years from groundbreaking to full construction.

One detail to note: June 28 is also the date of the primary elections for local and national races, so expect turnout to be high.

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public policy issues facing the state.

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