View Full Version : City Leaders Tour Faulty Jail



solitude
08-14-2008, 01:50 AM
After this story from today's Oklahoman, I have included a link to an old Daily Oklahoman article from 1988 about the jail design.
Read it and weep.


Oklahoma County Sheriff says problems cited in report tied to faulty facility
August 14, 2008
By John Estus
Staff Writer

In Jack Herron's 20 years working in federal prisons, not once did he step foot in a detention building designed as poorly as the Oklahoma County jail, he said.

"In my career I've never seen a design like this, Herron said Wednesday while standing in a jail dayroom surrounded by 50 jail cells. "It is very poor.

Sheriff John Whetsel, who hired Herron as the county's new jail administrator last week, had a more pointed assessment: "It's the lamest jail design I've ever seen.

Herron, a former Federal Bureau of Prisons warden, was hired in the wake of a Justice Department report released last week that slammed the jail as an overcrowded, violent place with an inability to manage its inmates.

Whetsel continued his campaign to explain why the jail faces so many problems Wednesday by giving officials from local governments a tour of the 13-story building in downtown Oklahoma City.

Officials from Oklahoma City, Del City and Midwest City were among about two dozen county officials and media members who toured the jail. Throughout the tour, Whetsel showed how the building's poor design has contributed to problems for jail staff and inmates.

One step into the D pod on the sixth floor provided a loud example of the stress detention officers face daily.

Inmates pounded on cell doors, cursing and yelling at the men. Many screamed: "I want my sandwich! I'm hungry! Get me food now! It was shortly after 3 p.m.

Herron said the inmates were screaming for sandwiches because of an apparent problem getting the food from the kitchen in the basement to the sixth floor cells. Another inmate yelled: "Moses said free my people, so free me!


Problems built-in
One of the most critical portions of the Justice Department report ripped the jail for its lack of direct supervision of inmates. Lack of supervision often leads to violence, the report said.
Whetsel said much of that problem can be blamed on the building's design.

For example, in the jail's dayroom areas, detention officers monitor inmates from an elevated office encased in glass windows.

The glass is considered a barrier between the inmate and the jailer, which means the supervision is classified as indirect, Whetsel said. Without the glass, the jailers and inmates can communicate and even get to know each other, which often leads to better behavior, Herron said.

Still, simply removing the glass wouldn't immediately solve the supervision problem because of the myriad blind spots in each pod, Herron said.

The glass is one of the many things that baffles Whetsel about the building, which was designed by a company that had never designed a jail before.

Whetsel just shrugged his shoulders when asked why the county hired the company in the first place. Whetsel wasn't sheriff when the jail's designer was hired.

The Justice Department report did not address the jail's design.


Seeing it themselves
Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch, Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry a former Oklahoma City police chief and Mayor Mick Cornett's chief of staff, David Holt, were among the Oklahoma City delegation on the tour.
Like most cities in the county, Oklahoma City has no city jail and pays the sheriff's department to house its inmates at the county jail. Couch sent a letter to Whetsel last week that cited the city's inmate contract with the county and asked the county to work with the Justice Department to solve the issues cited in the report.

Whetsel showed officials many of the things the jail has already done because of the Justice Department's visit, ranging from new paint that makes the jail feel more soothing to padded mats on the floor of the receiving area, where most fights occur.

Whetsel said he's glad Couch and the other officials came on the tour.

"It's important that they see for themselves what we deal with in this building, Whetsel said.
------

IMO, it's time to raze the building and do it right.

For those of you interested, I am making available an article from the Daily Oklahoman on March 20, 1988 about the wonderful new design of the jail. It was designed by HTB and RGDC. Interesting article.
http://drop.io/okctalk (http://drop.io/okctalk)
Just click on the picture of the article and then click "download". It's high resolution so you'll want to download it and read it locally - unless you have real good eyesight.

LINK TO OKLAHOMAN VIDEO WITH SHERIFF WHETSEL (http://www.newsok.tv/?titleID=1729330369)
Forum Tech Question: Does anyone know if there's a way to use the Oklahoman video embed code, so the video can appear here at OKCTalk?

Toadrax
08-14-2008, 04:56 AM
I like the part where it says "even if the prisoners could break the windows, they couldn't get out of them."

lol

The worst part about being in county is you never get to see any sun or get any exercise.. you just sit in your pod watching whatever is on tv.

PapaJack
08-14-2008, 05:40 AM
The worst part about being in county is you never get to see any sun or get any exercise.. you just sit in your pod watching whatever is on tv.

Never seeing the sun and no exercise is appropriate with "incarceration." Having to watch "whatever is on tv" borders on cruel an inhuman punishment.

A common downtown joke of the nineties was;

A man asks you "Where's the county jail?

You reply "The county jail is that building to the west with men in orange jump suits dangling from bedsheets."

BG918
08-14-2008, 07:23 AM
I have heard it bankrupted the two architecture firms and almost forced Manhattan Construction out of the OKC market...

metro
08-14-2008, 07:30 AM
Yeah, we really need a new county jail. It's been a problem for years. I know people in or near the system (employee side), and there are tons of issues. It basically becomes a NIMBY issue IF/WHEN it ever makes it to ballot for a new jail. No one wants it in their backyard, but we certainly don't want it downtown. I think we'd see a lot more westside downtown development if it were gone.

FFLady
08-14-2008, 08:00 AM
Whetsel just shrugged his shoulders when asked why the county hired the company in the first place. Whetsel wasn't sheriff when the jail's designer was hired.

I'm sure this is why he has no problems letting dignataries tour the place.....

Midtowner
08-14-2008, 08:04 AM
Yeah, we really need a new county jail. It's been a problem for years. I know people in or near the system (employee side), and there are tons of issues. It basically becomes a NIMBY issue IF/WHEN it ever makes it to ballot for a new jail. No one wants it in their backyard, but we certainly don't want it downtown. I think we'd see a lot more westside downtown development if it were gone.

It's downtown because that's where the court house is. The situation is similar in many major cities including Dallas. I live across the street from the jail. I've never had a single problem related to it in the 5 years I've been there.

If nothing else, police and sheriff cars driving by my apt all day and night is a good thing.

metro
08-14-2008, 11:06 AM
Yeah, but we're not downtown Dallas' either. Look at all the seedy places that surround our downtown jail, boarded up buildings, endless bail bonds places and that's about it. The arts district is close by to ours, and I've heard developers say they'd love to develop there but they feel people would have a hard time buying new high end urban residential next door to the county jail.

Midtowner
08-14-2008, 11:27 AM
Yeah, but we're not downtown Dallas' either. Look at all the seedy places that surround our downtown jail, boarded up buildings, endless bail bonds places and that's about it. The arts district is close by to ours, and I've heard developers say they'd love to develop there but they feel people would have a hard time buying new high end urban residential next door to the county jail.

That's not really an issue for me. Like I said, I live across the street. Living downtown is not the same as living in Nichols Hills. We have to accept the fact that folks of a lower station in life might happen to walk across the sidewalk in front of our building every now and again.

The logistical and security concerns of having the jail close to the court house, not to mention located in the most central part of the metro, far outweigh any NIMBY considerations. Living next to this sort of facility is just par for the course when living downtown.

Toadrax
08-14-2008, 01:03 PM
Never seeing the sun and no exercise is appropriate with "incarceration." Having to watch "whatever is on tv" borders on cruel an inhuman punishment.

Most the people in county are not guilty(I sure wasn't) of a crime, they are just awaiting trial.

I just took advantage of it and got some much needed rest while I waited a few days for stuff to get sorted out.

bombermwc
08-14-2008, 01:19 PM
I don't think the location hurts anything. Seriously folks...Legacy built right there by the civic center, which is a stone's throw away.

OKCMallen
08-14-2008, 05:11 PM
Yeah, but we're not downtown Dallas' either. Look at all the seedy places that surround our downtown jail, boarded up buildings, endless bail bonds places and that's about it. The arts district is close by to ours, and I've heard developers say they'd love to develop there but they feel people would have a hard time buying new high end urban residential next door to the county jail.

You could build it in the middle of the Salt Flats and it would still sprout up bailbonds joints.

Tex
10-01-2008, 10:24 PM
Committee says OK County Jail may be torn down
KFOR-TV
updated 11:16 a.m. CT, Wed., Oct. 1, 2008

NEWSCHANNEL 4 OKLAHOMA CITY -- Members of a committee, that's looking for ways to improve the Oklahoma County jail, say it may need to be torn down and a new one built. Mike Means of the Adult Detention Advisory Committee says the jail is an albatross that was poorly designed and has never met the county's needs. The federal Department of Justice has criticized the jail for a lack of supervision, violence between inmates, and excessive force by guards. The department removed federal inmates from the jail. The committee has a December 31 deadline to make its recommendation. Copyright 2008 KFOR-TV-DT. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

URL: Committee says OK County Jail may be torn down - KFOR-TV - MSNBC.com (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26974398/)

I hope demolition becomes a reality so that the stigma of having a jail in our thriving downtown goes away.

Midtowner
10-01-2008, 11:48 PM
Tex, having a jail in our downtown is a necessary evil. It's just too damn convenient, not to mention more secure, to have a jail about 4 blocks away from the courthouse.

As for NIMBY-ism, I don't think it's that big of a deal. The jail is literally in my own back yard. As I sit here, typing this, if I open the blinds, I can see it from here. It's no big deal. The great thing about jails is the fact that the bad folks are kept inside. Any sort of NIMBY-ism is ridiculous. Dallas has its jail facility downtown and is none the worse for it either.

OKCTalker
10-02-2008, 08:36 AM
I took a tour of the jail as it was being completed, and everyone touted the excellence in its design, efficiency and security. I don't recall the specific reasons why, but now another group comes along and characterizes the design by saying, "It is very poor." I'm not interesting in assessing blame because that won't lead us anywhere, but I have four questions: 1) How could designers 20 years ago get it so wrong? 2) How could so many people have been duped into buying their proposal? 3) What can we do to make certain that it doesn't happen again? 4) Do we have enough leadership and integrity in current country government to make it happen, or will it have to wait for more turnover?

Midtowner
10-02-2008, 08:41 AM
My understanding was that we went with an architectural firm with zero experience in building jails. My suspicion is that the choice was based upon the county selecting the lowest bid for the project. Maybe there was some backroom dealing, but like you said, at this point, that's all completely irrelevant.

We just need this fixed. We need a new jail.

I'm not sure I favor tearing the existing facility down though. Couldn't it be turned into something else? Maybe housing for lower-risk prisoners? Like a Hyatt with bars? An overflow facility? Something like that?

bluedogok
10-02-2008, 07:59 PM
There was always back room dealings with anything the city or county government was associated with back then. Those design firms were joined at the hip with them and did the bulk of the work and a principal at one of the firms was married to a high ranking official involved in an agency that had much power over downtown OKC. Most of the other firms in town didn't try to get the work because they knew the decisions had been made prior to any announcement.

The county also failed the jail probably more than the designers did, Manhattan probably got off the lightest of all of them and probably made the most. They negotiated a "settlement" and the others tried to fight it. Most of their construction "inspectors" were cronies of the county commissioners and had no construction experience, well one concrete inspector had poured his own patio slab once.....

Trying to convert something that was designed for such a use and poorly built to begin with is an exercise in futility and would probably cost more than razing it and building something new. New construction is almost always cheaper than renovating...of course part of the problem is most things seem to be built for a 20 year life anymore and not with any sense of permanence.