The Comanche County Detention Center no longer is taking inmates, officials said Monday about a facility that has been under the control of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections since the weekend.
Bill Dobbs, detention center administrator, said Mike Carpenter, director of the Oklahoma DOC division of institutions, arrived with a team Saturday and has assumed control of a detention center that is struggling to control an outbreak of COVID-19 among inmates and staff. The team has taken control of inmates and is heading sanitation efforts in the county facility.
Carpenter, briefly addressing Comanche County Commissioners Monday morning, said his team is working under the guidance of Secretary of Public Safety Chip Keating and DOC Director Scott Crow to stabilize the Comanche County jail. Carpenter estimated it would take 10-15 days to stabilize the facility after dealing with COVID-19.
County health officials confirmed last week they had begun testing inmates and staff for COVID-19. On May 13, the facility reported 92 inmates and 14 staff members had tested positive, following testing the week before of 321 inmates and 65 staff members. Monday, Hobbs said the count of positive COVID-19 cases that morning was 102.
Hobbs said part of Carpenter’s work is moving inmates as part of a plan to isolate those who have tested positive from those who are negative. Brandie Combs, Region 5 Regional Director for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, described the technique as “hot, warm, cold,” referring to those who are positive, those whose status is unknown and those who are negative.
But, the size of the facility severely restricts what can be done, which means part of what state and county officials have been working on is identifying areas to hold inmates. Carpenter said the plan is to move healthy inmates to another facility, but that site has not been identified. Once it is, the site will have to be approved by the DOC and by Gov. Kevin Stitt before any action is taken.
No new inmates will be part of the mix.
“We have been ordered by the Commissioner of Health to not take any more inmates until further notice,” Hobbs said, estimating the detention center will be closed for at least 14 days (the period of time that those testing positive with COVID-19 are ordered to quarantine) or longer, “whatever it takes. We’re going day by day now.”
Hobbs said Carpenter’s crew works in four-hour rotated shifts, applying chemicals and ensuring sanitation protocols are followed. For example, every inmate must wear a mask, under the DOC criteria that Carpenter’s crew has implemented on the county detention center. While some inmates had refused to wear the masks provided by the county, Hobbs said they have no choice now because the DOC crew is operating the jail under state guidelines that require inmates to wear masks any time they are off their bunks.
The quarantine and shut down orders have opened up a new problem for law enforcement officials in Comanche County: what to do with those who were arrested after the detention center was ordered locked down.
Hobbs said the detention center has an agreement with Tillman County, whose jail will take prisoners from new arrests in Comanche County. Such arrests will be taken to Frederick to be housed in the Tillman County facility that has 23 to 25 beds, Hobbs said, adding that will be the practice until further notice. Comanche County had not had to use the Tillman County Jail as of Monday morning.
When Tillman County does begin running out of space, Comanche County will have to look at new options. Hobbs said those options may be limited.
But, one option being explored is housing some of the county’s prisoners at GEO’s Lawton Correctional facility southeast of Lawton. Hobbs said Carpenter and state officials are negotiating that agreement.
In addition, the City of Lawton municipal jail agreed over the weekend to accept one man who was arrested in a county town for criminal activities stemming from his drunken behavior. Sheriff Kenny Stradley said while the man was arrested by the county, Lawton allowed him to be housed in its jail. City of Lawton officials have said they are following a strict protocol of temperature testing all inmates before they are admitted.
Combs praised the county/state’s plan to move 100 inmates out of the county facility, noting the freed-up space would make it easier to isolate inmates who have tested positive. Detention center employees who test positive are not allowed to work until they can ensure they no longer are positive for COVID-19.
Combs said some of the county’s positive inmates have been released, but she emphasized those inmates are being strictly monitored, just as any other person with COVID-19 is monitored.
“It’s not any different than any other citizen,” she said, explaining her nurses are tracking such inmates, who are required to quarantine and submit to testing.