Vote on Oklahoma County jail can't be put off indefinitely

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: March 14, 2013

“We're just kind of waiting on their (the DOJ's) final stance, I think, and then that will kind of give us the direction that we need to go,” said Ray Vaughn, commission chairman and a proponent of building a new jail.

Commissioner Brian Maughan, who opposes the new jail idea, has suggested looking for ways to expand the current jail — built in 1991 — while making more use of alternative sentencing programs to ease jail crowding. He also has said the county should make the DOJ force its hand before moving forward with any potential fixes.

That approach carries some risk. If the feds were to take over the jail, the price tag for any upgrades would surely be greater than those now on the table. And in that scenario, the costs would be borne by county property owners through increased ad valorem taxes over a three-year span.

Perhaps that's unlikely; the DOJ has reacted favorably to remediation efforts thus far. But is it worth the risk? A federal resolution is the last thing we need.

The decision can't be put off indefinitely. County voters should be asked if they'll pay for a new or remodeled jail. If the answer is no, so be it. At least it would be an answer.

This really is everyone's problem.

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