First, let me start this off by apologizing for the tardiness of it. I normally like run the CPA articles as soon as I can. This week was sort of a bigger week than usual for the class. We had the class on gangs, which was wonderfully presented and generated a lot of questions. Those questions, in-turn, led to other areas of discussion. Great stuff. Now, for the second part of the class.
For this, we all loaded back up in our vehicles and left the Police Station. We proceeded to our “field trip” destination, the Garfield County Detention Facility. For those not familiar, here is the location of the facility.
Finished 7 years ago, the new Garfield County Detention Center replaces the old County Jail that was at the Garfield County Courthouse downtown.
We all met up back in the parking lot and were greeted fairly quickly by our tour guides for the evening. Current Under-sheriff Jerry Niles, who was elected to the post of Sheriff and will take office in early January was one of our guides. Our other guide was the man he chose to replace him as Under-sheriff, K-9 Officer Jon Marshall. Sheriff elect Niles and Marshall split us into groups and took us in different directions. I was in the group with Sheriff-elect Niles.
We departed down a long hallway. He was taking us into “A” Tower. “A” Tower houses separate housing facilities, or pods, for the men in the facility. We were told that the prisoners are sorted into the different pods for different reasons. The most serious offenders are placed in one pod, while others are sorted out into the remaining pods.
From the tower, which can control the entire facility, we were able to look down on all the pods. There was an employee of the facility running a camera system that enabled them to see any of the cameras in the facilities and lock and unlock doors as needed.
It was from the tower, that we quickly were shown how innovative the prisoners are when they needed to be. The passing of notes from one prisoner to another was quite entertaining. They would attach notes to ripped up sheets, and sling the make shift device to another cell. The note could then be transferred on to someone else or returned to the originator of the note. This is something they can potentially get into trouble for as it’s destruction of taxpayer property to rip up a sheet. “They have nothing but time to think up methods like this,” Niles said.
The county supplies each prisoner with a mat to sleep on, a blanket, a sheet, and a towel. “If they’re indigent, we supply them with underwear, socks, and a white t-shirt,” Niles added. “If they have money on the books, they are not indigent. If they have money, they can buy commissary. Believe it or not, there are people in here with thousands of dollars in their account.”
“B” Tower (Booking):
We next made our way to the booking area. It just so happened that as we were there, a male and a female were being booked into the facility. We could peer into one of the holding cells and see a prisoner completely asleep. Nothing more than the mat and a blanket. The lights were on as well. “Do they get a pillow?” one of the members of our group asked. “Well…if there is an extra mat in there, yeah they could use that as a pillow,” Niles said.
In booking, they are allowed two completed phone calls. They are placed into jumpsuits and their belongings are inventoried and locked up.
By state statute, they still have to do a daily count of how many people they have each day. They have log books at the jail that go all the way back to 1893 when Garfield County was simply known as County O. The same system is still in place. Could they update it? Yes. But the state legislature has never gotten around to allowing them to do it. In fact, the formula for how the County is funded (along with school districts) is the same as was since 1907, the year Oklahoma entered statehood. All of the actual bookings are done on computers.
The booking area has a medical room, that if you didn’t know better was a regular room from an ER at a hospital. In fact, they have a nurse on staff. They have a physician’s assistant on staff. And they have a doctor contracted.
All visitation is recorded (unless it’s a professional visitation with their lawyers). They get one visitation each week.
The very day we had gone for our tour, Niles had to deal with a complaint from an inmate that he was not being fed enough. The County goes a yearly review with the Health Department to ensure the dietary needs of the inmates. They also are able to serve different meals to those with allergies and religious beliefs. “You’d be surprised how many times someone will change religions while they’re in here just to get a different type of food,” Niles added.
The facility cooks around 700 meals a day, which would be the equivalent of a small restaurant. The meals are all prepared by trustees in a state of the art facility that allows them to cook in bulk.
Additional Fun Facts:
- The facility uses 5 – 300 gallon hot water heaters.
- One person has been in the facility 177 times in 7 years. At the old facility, he was booked 127 times.
- The jail is a bit understaffed. Why? Simple economics. The County can only afford to pay the average jailer what someone might make at a fast food restaurant. Additionally, the County much like the Police Department have lost a few people to the oilfield based on pay. And unfortunately, the County had to terminate 5 people just last week, 3 of which could be facing criminal charges for their actions that led to their dismissal.
- The number one things that are attempted to be smuggled into the facility are tobacco and prescription pills.
- There is a video facility that allows inmates to appear via camera to the Garfield County Courthouse. This is typically done for arraignment.
- Under-sheriff Niles once wrote a piece that appeared right here on the Route 60 Sentinel.
I know that I can safely speak for all of the members of the Enid Police Department’s Citizen Police Academy when I issue a wholehearted thank you to Sheriff-Elect Niles and Soon-to-be Under-sheriff Marshall for extending their hospitality to us. I think each one of us walked away with a greater appreciation of what happens there and without a doubt a huge debt of gratitude to each of you and your entire staff for all that you do to keep our County a safe place.
On a personal note, having been on the portion of the tour with Sheriff-Elect Niles, I can say without a doubt that our county made the correct decision in who they elected to lead our Sheriff’s Department. I also had the opportunity a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away to work with soon to be Under-sheriff Marshall. His work ethic is unparalleled in my memory. I just as confident that with him as our Under-sheriff, that again, we will be living in a safer county.