The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, commonly known as the jail trust, voted unanimously today to re-elect former OKC city manager Jim Couch to another year as jail trust chairman.
The motion to retain Couch as chairman was introduced by jail trust member Kevin Calvey, who is also county commissioner for District 3, during Monday’s trust meeting, which was the first after another person died at the jail in December. Late last year, Calvey announced his candidacy for Oklahoma County District Attorney.
“I think that Chairman Couch and Vice Chairman (Ben) Brown are doing a fine job,” Calvey said. “Subject to their acceptance of it, I would move we re-elect Chairman Couch and Vice Chairman Brown.”
Couch took over as jail trust chairman following the resignation of Tricia Everest in April 2021. Everest left the trust in April after being appointed as Oklahoma secretary of public safety by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Williams: ‘We continue to fight contraband coming into the facility’
In his monthly presentation to the jail trust, Oklahoma County Jail administrator Greg Williams reported on an inmate death, two recent firings of jail staff and the effects of COVID-19 on the jail’s population and operations.
Gabriel Yalartai, 40, was found dead in his cell Dec. 26. He had apparently hanged himself and became the 15th person to die in the long-troubled correctional facility in 2020. Williams said one jail employee had been fired in the wake of the incident.
“Over the Christmas holidays, we had an inmate that we think died of a suicide,” Williams said. “We’re investigating that. We’re going through and looking at all the policies and procedures, anything that led up to that, anything that we could have done differently to prevent that. We have terminated one employee as a result of what we already found, just for failure to follow policy and to do things they should be doing, with or without the incident. They were found to not be doing what they should be doing, so we terminated that employee.”
Williams said another jail employee had also been fired because of contraband.
“We continue to fight contraband coming into the facility,” Williams said. “Contraband is an evil that almost all jails and facilities are suffering, and have for years. Right now the contraband is up. We have intensified our efforts to combat that and as a result of that we did find an employee with an unauthorized cell phone, and as we were going through that phone we found some disturbing images that may even be criminal. We called local law enforcement and they did arrest an employee as a result of that.”
Williams said 17 employees are currently sick with COVID-19 and that he expected at least two more to be added to that list today.
“The numbers are on the rise in the community and I think the new strain is very contagious and has a large impact on the community at large,” he said. “We’re taking all the precautions that we can, but we expect those numbers to continue to be a struggle for us.”
Blumert tours jail
Earlier Monday during an Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners meeting, District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert said she had recently completed a tour of the Oklahoma County Jail.
Blumert said she toured the 13th floor medical unit, the booking area, kitchen and several pods during a two-hour visit on Dec. 15. County commissioners are required to tour the jail at least once a year.
“The first thing that I noticed was that it smelled much better than it normally does,” Blumert said. “We have all been in that building when it hasn’t smelled good, and I noticed a significant improvement, not only for the detainees but for the employees who are there every single day.”
Blumert said she also saw some improvements made to the jail as a result of the use of CARES Act funding.
“I was vey impressed by the new computer system that controls the water so detainees can’t flush the toilet too many times and cause a flood,” she said. “That’s a pretty high-tech system the jail hasn’t had before and is a big improvement.”
Still, Blumert said some aspects of the jail continue to be lacking.
“Everything I’m reporting is good, but it’s still our jail,” she said. “It’s still not an easy place to be. The lighting isn’t good, and there’s no outdoor space. But I have seen marked improvements, and I was very happy about that. I am looking forward to building a new facility and saying goodbye to this facility, but I have seen improvements and was fairly pleased.”
In December, the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with developing final plans for a new county jail.