Jail trust contract OKC
Jail trust chairman Ben Brown and jail public information officer Mark Opgrande talk Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in a pod on the eighth floor of the Oklahoma County Jail that has been closed for repairs. (Tres Savage)

With just days remaining in Fiscal Year 2023, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority approved its jail services agreement with the City of Oklahoma City during a special meeting today. Delayed for months owing to governing board turnover and lingering negotiations, the $500,000 agreement covers this fiscal year, but officials say the total falls well short of covering the trust cost of detention for OKC residents.

The city had not been paying for jail services this year because there was no contract between the city and OCCJA, also know as the jail trust. That negotiation process had been underway prior to the resignation of jail trust Chairman Jim Couch and jail CEO Greg Williams in December. Negotiations for the FY 2023 agreement were put on hold while Couch was replaced as chairman and current CEO Brandi Garner was hired.

Trust members said Monday that the Fiscal Year 2024 contract is currently being negotiated with the City of OKC. The city’s prior agreements have included paying the jail trust about $1.1 million in Fiscal Year 2020, about $975,000 in Fiscal Year 2021 and About $485,000 in Fiscal Year 2022.

The City of OKC arrests most of the people who end up in the Oklahoma County Jail, which has an average daily population of about 1,500 detainees. Jail trust member Joe Allbaugh — who resigned from the body in June 2022 but was reappointed to the board one year later this summer — said negotiations on the FY 2024 jail services agreement with OKC are off to a positive start. 

“[The $500,000 agreement] is not anywhere close to what it takes to incarcerate people even at a detention center, but we’re working on that,” said Allbaugh, who once served as director of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. “We had our first meeting last Thursday with the assistant city manager and the city manager’s team to start the negotiations for 2023-2024. The goal was to get this over with for this fiscal year because it expires Friday. I don’t think anyone is happy with it, so let’s collectively bite the bullet and move forward. We’ve had to absorb a lot of costs this year. My first meeting was June 5, so I’m playing catch up, but the city has been nothing but cooperative in our talks thus far, and I’m looking forward to closing that out earlier rather than later.”

Allbaugh said that often the jail spends more to house detainees than what is paid by the city in its contract, something he and the trust hope to remedy in the future. 

“I think it will be more realistic,” Allbaugh said of the next agreement with OKC. “We’ll be going back to our contractor that crunches all the numbers on the actual cost, and that’s a fair basis to start: What the daily cost is, and what the medical cost is. We don’t get enough money to begin with from the (county) budget board, so it’s tough when it comes to incarceration — particularly the health care and all the ancillary people who are brought to the detention center. The medical costs are out of sight.”

Trustee Sue Ann Arnall said she is also hopeful the next agreement with OKC would more directly reflect the cost associated with housing detainees at the jail. 

“It’s not ideal,” she said. “[The $500,000 figure] is not close to the value that is owed. We were a little late in the game on this one, so we are looking forward to next year’s.”

Chairman Ben Brown resigns

Joe Allbaugh
Joe Allbaugh

Ben Brown, who had been serving as the jail trust’s chairman since Couch’s resignation, has tendered his resignation effective June 30. A former member of the Oklahoma State Senate, Brown had been on the trust since it began administration of the jail in July 2020. He follows a long line of those who have left the trust since that time, including Couch, Tricia Everest, Francie Ekwerekwu, former Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, M.T. Berry, Adam Luck, Loretta Radford and former Commissioner Kevin Calvey. 

Brown was not present for Tuesday’s special jail trust meeting, nor was his resignation on the agenda for the meeting. In his resignation letter to District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan, Brown said he had done his part to make the jail a better place. He did not specify a reason for stepping down.

“As a final note, the Jail improvement is not an event. It is a process. Even a relay. I have run my leg of the relay to the best of my ability,” Brown wrote. “It is now time for someone else to take the baton and run it forward.”

In his letter, Brown noted what he believed were improvements relative to the time the trust took over operation of the jail from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office.

“When the trust took over on July 1, 2020 conditions were deplorable. Though I won’t go into detail, I will say the structure was filthy, nasty, full of dirt, mold, and mildew,” Brown wrote. “Sewage leaked down 13 floors into every part of the building.”

In his letter, Brown noted improvements that had been made using federal pandemic relief funds to overhaul the jail’s HVAC and sewage systems.

“Though there is much to be done, we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Brown wrote. 

Allbaugh has followed a different path. He joined the trust in 2021 replacing Everest. He resigned in 2022 to run for seat on the Kay County Board of Commissioners. Allbaugh won his election, but he never took office owing to health issues that he detailed in a press release. He recently rejoined the jail trust earlier this month.

Allbaugh, who also farms wheat, recently moved back to OKC and had expressed interest in rejoining the trust if the opportunity presented itself. 

“I’m a doer,” Allbaugh said. “I just want to make a difference wherever I go and whatever I do. Try to lead. It was apparent to me not only in my first few months’ stint and even afterward following it in the news — given my previous experience in a vast array of areas — I could lend my shoulder to the wheel. Commissioner Myles Davidson and I had a conversation, and I said if you ever get to that point, I’d be interested in doing it again.”