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Rogers County jail fails inspection, capacity issue a 'never ending cycle'

rogers county jail
Posted at 7:12 PM, Apr 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-17 11:44:18-04

CLAREMORE, Okla. — An annual inspection of the Rogers County Detention Facility showed it did not meet standards set by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

One issue, the sheriffs there say, is repetitive offenses they have suffered. Undersheriff Jonathon Sappington said in the last three years, the jail has been written up for the same capacity bedding problem.

“In 2005, we got a report to where we could hold 250 inmates, and we could hold three to a cell,” said Sappington. “For the last three years, the jail inspectors came back and said that there’s not enough square footage, even though that’s always been the custom and practice of jails across the state, not just us. So when we say an inmate is sleeping on the floor, there are boats, or there are beds there, there’s just three to a cell.”

Since opening in 2000, the facility’s capacity has changed three times, from 180 to 250 to 332. When capacity increased before space was made for additional inmates, the jail’s solution was adding a third inmate to a cell.

To this specific infraction, though, Sappington takes issue and said he has written rebuttals to the inspectors, the Attorney General, and the OSA.

“There’s gonna be some write-ups and I’m fine with those, I just want to have a consistent expectation,” said Sappington. “When you tell me in 2005, ‘this is the standard,’ that standard should be the same no matter where we are, and if you’re gonna change it, let’s change it in the future with future construction projects or future jail builds, don’t change retroactively.”

The facility now has a bunk bed, an added boat, and a platform bed on the floor. The health department said this does not meet its standards.

“The reality is, whenever you reach that capacity limit, there’s not a button you can pull, there’s not a red lever, there’s not an emergency solution,” said Sappington. “You work to try to get some people out that maybe didn’t belong there, or maybe you’ve got some other options with, but we have 11 misdemeanors out of our 232 inmates right now, the rest of them are felonies. Which felony do you want us to release? That’s the equation that nobody wants to answer.”

Sappington explained this building was evoked with the Oklahoma Jail Standard in mind. The standard states in each cell, 40 square feet are allocated for the first inmate and 20 square feet for every inmate added after.

The stipulation now is inspectors are deducting feet for furniture in the rooms, which means the jails aren’t meeting a new standard.

The detention center has been under construction since 2019 to remodel an old records room into more space for inmates and upgrade the 20+ year-old building, but it’s a slow-moving process. As Sappington explains, in order to fix up one area, they need to have a room to relocate inmates to, making the upkeep of the facility hard.

“We’ll move them from one pod to another, we’ll clean that pod up, we’ll then move them to the next one,” he said. “By the time we get completed, because we have 12 pods were working with, and probably 2 to 3 months per pod… By that time, the first pod you started with is going to be back to where it was. It’s a never ending cycle.”

This exact reason, part of what Sappington attributes cleanliness writeups to in the inspection. The health department noted wet and unsafe floors, dirt and what looked like mold on walls, and unsanitary shower areas.

Sappington said while they do clean, inmates also have cleaning supplies in each pod to help mitigate things getting out of hand. However, he said there is only so much that the staff at the jail can do to meet the standards laid out for them.

“This is not a hotel, this is not a comfortable place,” he said. “Inmates do not care for this as you would for your home or for somebody else’s place, and they don’t take the proper care or precautions as far as cleanliness and things of that nature. So no matter what we do, there’s gonna be a pretty constant rotation of construction, and hygiene and cleaning that needs to occur to keep it to an adequate standard.”

With a new capacity and the project coming along to make more room, Sappington and the rest of the jail staff are hopeful the occupancy number can stick so fewer infractions occur in the future.

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