The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has begun transferring inmates from the Comanche County Detention Center to a DOC facility near Sayre.

Comanche County Commissioners, acting in their capacity as the Comanche County Facilities Authority, approved a contract with the DOC in a special meeting Wednesday morning, clearing the way for county inmates who have tested negative for the COVID-19 virus to be transferred to a vacant unit at the DOC’s North Fork Correctional Center east of Sayre. The agreement sets a termination date of June 10, with costs to be covered by federal funds.

Jessica Brown, chief of strategic engagement for the DOC, said Comanche County inmates have not been adjudicated, so they will be kept separate from DOC’s general prison population while they are housed at the North Fork Correctional Center. Brown and Comanche County officials don’t know how long the arrangement will last, saying it will depend on how quickly they can get the COVID-19 virus under control at the Comanche County facility.

Brown said inmates must test negative twice before they are determined to be free of the COVID-19 virus. Those prisoners then will be transferred to Sayre, via 20-person security vans provided by DOC. She said the healthy prisoners will be transferred as soon as they test negative twice; those testing positive for COVID-19 will remain in the Lawton facility.

DOC took control of the Comanche County Detention Center last weekend, to help the detention center deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 that has infected more than 100 inmates and staff members. Detention Center Administrator William Hobbs told commissioners Monday that DOC had brought in a crew that is handling prisoners and instituting stringent sanitation protocols to help clean the facility and contain the spread of the virus, as both inmates and staff deal with a virus with a 14-day quarantine period. In addition, the Department of Health has ordered the detention center closed until further notice, meaning it cannot take in any new inmates, Hobbs said.

Central District Commissioner Johnny Owens, who is in charge of the courthouse and related facilities, said Wednesday that contrary to reports, Comanche County called the DOC for help.

“We asked the authorities from the DOC and from the health department to come down and help us,” Owens told department heads Wednesday. “We asked them for this help. People are not forcing themselves on us.”

Owens said commissioners and other county officials have been talking with staff from the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Corrections, outlining what needs to be done.

Brown said the virus will determine how long the DOC works with Comanche County. Health care professionals say positive cases and those who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, so officials expect to be at the Comanche County facility for at least 14 days.

Brown said now that an alternate site has been identified, healthy prisoners can be transferred out of the county detention center. County officials have said moving some prisoners will free up space, making it easier to separate prisoners and enforce quarantine. Brandie Combs, Region 5 regional director for the Oklahoma Department of Health, said Monday that county inmates who are positive for COVID-19 and have served their time will be — and have been — released from custody, but will be monitored by her staff and required to quarantine, the same protocols applied to anyone who tests positive for COVID-19.

Brown said she wasn’t certain how many inmates would be transferred out of Comanche County, explaining that will depend on how many inmates test negative in two separate tests. Those who meet that milestone will be transferred immediately to Sayre, via DOC transportation vans.

“We have a unit there that is not occupied,” she said, noting separation will be maintained between the other male inmates housed there and Comanche County inmates. “We don’t want them to mingle with our prisoners.”

One female inmate who has tested negative for COVID-19 will be transferred to the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center near McLoud.

The agreement between the Comanche County Facilities Authority and Oklahoma Department of Corrections specifies DOC will provide housing and board for inmates for a period not to extend beyond June 10, with those inmates limited to those with no current medical problems that would entail additional expense to the DOC. DOC will cover routine medical expenses for those prisoners; Comanche County is responsible for an additional expenses due to a medical issue.

That is expected to be the only expense to the county.

Comanche County officials have agreed to a rate of $27 per inmate per day, with the DOC agreeing to seek reimbursement from Coronavirus Relief Funds available to Oklahoma through the CARES Act. DOC also intends to seek reimbursement of costs related to actions that “enhance security and sanitation necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent outbreak of the virus at the Comanche County Detention Center,” under the agreement. Those security and sanitation activities began May 16 and are slated to end no later than June 10, under the agreement.

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