EDMOND, Okla. — Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey on Tuesday called for the first time publicly for an administrator to run the County Jail.
Speaking to the Edmond Economic Development Authority Board, Calvey said the commission in May voted to set up a jail trust — the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority.
The trust will decide who will run the jail moving forward whether it be the sheriff, a private company or a civilian jail administrator.
“I think we should hire a jail administrator,” Calvey said. “I wouldn’t rule out the notion of having a private company come and do it, but I think there’s a lot of political opposition to that.”
He said that while he is not sure the jail building is salvageable in the long run, the most significant changes would be operational.
“The problems we have in the jail now, the large majority of them, have nothing to do with design or structure or building materials,” he said. “The last few years, taxpayers have been sued for $20 million due to the Sheriff’s Department’s negligence. This is guards abusing inmates, tying them up with other inmates who abuse them, all kinds of problems that we have had due to the operation of the jail.”
Calvey said the lawsuits prompted him to run for the commission. Even before his election, he said, he heard rumors of people “lost” in the jail, who had never gone to court. He said an inmate had been in jail for eight months and had not been to court.
“He’d been complaining to the guards and they’d just ignored him,” Calvey said. “He finally complained to somebody from the private medical contractor, and they listened to him and looked into it.”
He said a court-ordered jail count by the public defender’s office found several more people in jail who should not have been.
“We are patiently waiting on the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority to determine which direction they will go regarding the operation of the Oklahoma County Detention Center,” said Mark Myers, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department public information officer. “We have been working with the trust as they educate themselves on the functions of the jail and look forward to their decision regarding the operation of the jail.”
Myers said three-fourths of the department’s funding goes to the jail, with the largest portion going to the care of inmates and their medical needs.
“This fiscal year the jail’s general fund was just over $30 million, and the law enforcement side of the Sheriff’s Office general funding was just over $10 million,” he said.
He said the majority of the lawsuits were filed between 2005-15 under a different administration.
“Since assuming responsibility for the office in March 2017, Sheriff PD Taylor has come in under budget every year, and made improvements within the jail, significantly reducing the agency’s liabilities,” Myers said.
Six counties in Oklahoma employ civilian jail administrators, Calvey said, including Tulsa County.
Calvey said the Sheriff’s Department spends money that should go to the jail on other expenses.
He said the department received $50.3 million in revenue in the most recent year for which full numbers are available.
“An audit showed they spent $31.1 million on the jail,” he said. “That’s $19.2 million they spent on non-jail staff. Nineteen thousand people live in the unincorporated parts of the county. That’s over $1,000 per person. To be fair, they have a few other functions.”
He compared the number of sheriff’s investigators —13 — to Edmond Police, which has 20 investigators for a population five times larger.
“I realize that population isn’t a direct indicator, but if you look at proportion, (the county) would only have four,” he said.
He said reducing investigators would allow the department to raise salaries for jailers, which he supports.
“There’s so much money overspent on the sheriff’s office, if we just right-size them, we could build a new jail with no tax increase,” Calvey said. “And we could’ve done it 10 years ago.”