jail trust to return CARES Act money
The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority voted Monday, Nov. 2, to return a large portion of the CARES Act funds it had directed to the jail back to Oklahoma County. (Screenshot)

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority voted today to return some of the federal CARES Act funds it had designated for COVID-19-related improvements at the Oklahoma County Jail.

Six trustee members voted to approve a list of improvements for the jail while trustees Kevin Calvey and Danny Honeycutt abstained. In doing so, the OCCJA — called the jail trust — will return about $25 million to the broader county government and retain about $15 million for use at the jail.

The Oklahoma County Budget Board voted in August to designate virtually all of the county’s CARES Act money to the jail trust and toward the jail.

That move ignited controversy and contentious meetings of the jail trust, with protesters often castigating county leaders for their decision.

Further controversy stirred when the trust appeared to vote in favor of removing ICE agents from office space at the jail, only to realize later that not enough votes were cast. Another vote to remove ICE from the jail also failed to gain the number of votes necessary on Oct. 19.

Deadline for fund usage cited

Funds obtained through the CARES Act come with a requirement that they must be spent by the end of the year. Ultimately, the jail trust decided that deadline could not be met.

According to estimates, the trust could not spend the entire $37 million it originally allocated by the Dec. 30 deadline. It identified about $15 million in COVID-19-related improvements to the jail that could be completed by that deadline, and those projects will move forward.

“This is how I think we should respond,” trustee Jim Couch said prior to the vote.

Critics of the trust again chided members for not listening to their complaints before designating the money for use by the jail. They believed the money should be directed to those in need who reside in the county, including those who face possible eviction.

“It took us coming up here doing mock funerals on the floor of your building for you to pay attention,” criminal justice reform advocate Mark Faulk said. “It took us disrupting these meetings for you to pay attention. It took us filing a lawsuit for you to pay attention.”

Faulk continued: “Thank you for finally doing the right thing. It would be nice if we did not have to shame you into doing the right thing.”

The remaining $15 million that will be directed toward the jail for COVID-19-related improvements include upgrades of video equipment and testing for inmates and other “COVID repairs.”