COAL COUNTY, OK -- The Oklahoma State Department of Health has ordered Coal County officials make safety and sanitary upgrades to their jail, and as Kristen Shanahan tells us it is adding fuel to an already heated debate about whether or not to start building a new facility.
Commissioner Johnny Ward says inspectors wrote up the Coal County jail for not having enough jailers. Right now they have only one jailer for about 16 inmates.They also handed down a verbal warning saying the plumbing, toilets and showers need to be upgraded, which Ward says would cost at least $44,000 dollars to fix. His solution is to build a new jail as soon as possible.
"This thing has been around the world for the last 47 years with inmates in and out of that thing, and to me it's just like pouring money down a rat hole," Ward said.
However, Commissioner Mike Hensley does not see it that way.
"We are going to have to get a new jail, but I do think it's down the road. I don't feel like it's something we need to jump into," Hensley said.
He says, at this time, the county does not have the funds to build and staff a new jail.
"Our sales tax was bringing in, at one time, probably two years it brought in $200,000 dollars a month and now it's down to $40,000. It's just unstable economy," Hensley said.
Commissioner Alvin Pebworth says it would cost about $1.5 million dollars to build a new jail. They have about $3 million dollars in the budget, but he says they need to save it, in case of emergency; however, Ward says there is no time to waste.
"Everyday we wait you're just driving up the cost of construction," Ward said.
The current jail is located inside the courthouse and some residents feel it should be moved behind the Sheriff's Office.
"People always take shortcuts through here. If they happen to have a bad guy or something going on in here it could cause a risk," Coal County resident Winston Rice said.
"To me it's just a lawsuit waiting to happen," Ward said.
Ward argues the condition of the jail also poses a risk. The Sheriff's Office tells us a piece of metal was torn from a damaged vent and made into a weapon by an inmate.
Hensley says they will spend money to get those types of problems fixed.
"Bryan's doing a good job in there and we'll just have to work with what we've got," Hensley said.
Inspectors have given the county 60 days to bring the jail up to code. Sheriff Bryan Jump has asked for an extension. He says talks about a new jail are just in the beginning stages.