The U.S. Justice Department found 60 civil rights violations [pdf] with the jail back in 2008, and essentially put county officials on notice that they needed to either fix the problems or face a federal takeover.
The county has, indeed, fixed most of the problems outlined in a 2008 report, which included high rates of violence between inmates and guards yet the basic design of the jail itself creates some of the problems. That means the county has to massively renovate the jail or build a new one, which makes the most sense. Each approach would cost millions upon millions of dollars and require some type of tax increase. The federal government, according to media reports, has apparently signaled it was moving forward with a lawsuit to force the issue.
In the past, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and other county officials have promoted a small increase in the county sales tax of only half-a-cent or less, but that hasn’t proven to be popular with voters. If the feds take over, homeowners would automatically face high property taxes to pay for the project. Something has to give eventually.
Part of the resistance to “a small increase in the county sales tax” is that Oklahoma County actually levies no sales tax at all, an anomaly in that we’re surrounded by counties that have enacted sales taxes, ranging from 0.25% (Cleveland) to 1.0% (Pottawatomie). I’m not a fan of higher taxes generally, but I’d rather see Oklahoma County add another buck to my grocery shopping every week than to have them jack up property taxes, which are already bumping up against historical highs.
Doc Hoc’s prescription:
Lower incarceration rates through drug courts and creative sentencing and vote to invest in a new jail through a small tax increase that allows for rehabilitation to reduce recidivism.
I can get behind that, I think.