County officials unveiled a $1 million revamp of the Oklahoma County Jail this afternoon, but reiterated a new facility is still needed.
The renovation comes two years after a U.S. Department of Justice report critical of the facility and the way it was managed. The department warned if new improvements were not made, the jail would fall under the control of the federal government.
At a press conference inside the jail, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said DOJ officials visited the facility two weeks and were "wowed" by the improvements made since issuing the report. The changes include:
" new food service,
" a new, direct-supervision pod area,
" a computerized sight-check monitoring system and
" a new inmate clothes-changing area.
However, Whetsel said the DOJ officials emphasized there were some things the renovation could not address, and the only way to fix those problems is a new jail. One area Whetsel said only a brand-new facility could solve are some of the blind spots within the current jail, preventing better monitoring of inmates.
Oklahoma County Commission Ray Vaughn said a sales-tax election to decide the matter would come in December at the earliest. He said the price tag of a new jail has come down from $400 million to around $300 million. "Scott Cooper
photo Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel shows the new camera operations room featuring over 100 surveillance camera views, with 30 more being added soon, part of new County Jail improvements, shown on a media tour Thursday, 4-1-2010. photo/Mark Hancock