Jail is campaign issue
Oklahoma County commissioners last spring contracted with a Georgia company to prepare recommendations for a new jail. The proposal is intended to resolve the last of 60 deficiencies outlined by a scathing 2007 U.S. Department of Justice report.
Early project estimates put the price tag for a new jail at $330 million, but Sorrels said $40 million in renovations and upgrades to the current facility would suffice.
Whetsel has said he will wait to see the consultant group's recommendation before endorsing a plan.
“But he's on the same lines as (President Barack) Obama — a big spender who spends money where he wants to spend it,” Sorrels said. “The platform he ran on 16 years ago was he was going to fix the jail and it has done nothing but got worse at the jail.”
Sorrels said 56 of the deficiencies outlined by the Justice Department concerned jail management — specifically, overcrowding and understaffing — and that Whetsel neglected to respond until the federal government forced his hand.
But Whetsel said Sorrels' criticisms are not based on fact. He said his response to the Justice Department report was immediate, and that if progress was slow it was because funding required for additional personnel and technology improvements was hard to come by.
Whetsel said the department lost $3 million in revenue when federal inmates were removed from the county jail due to overcrowding in 2008, but said the department replaced that income by housing state inmates.
Last spring, the Justice Department deemed all but the facility-related deficiencies resolved, he said.
“We have cleared almost every hurdle with the Department of Justice in meeting their recommendations with the exception of the issues that deal with the building,” he said.
Whetsel said turnover at the jail is about 20 percent, which meets or exceeds national averages, and said the department reduced administration staff from six to four in the past two years.
The election is scheduled for Nov. 6. Polls will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.