Oklahoma County Needs A New Jail, The Problem Is Where to Build It 

Everyone seems to agree that Oklahoma County needs a new jail. What they cannot agree on is where to build it. 

A site in Northeast Oklahoma City proposed by the County Commissioners drew protests from community groups and state and county politicians. The protests appear to have worked because the commissioners withdrew one of the sites as a possible location. 

Declaring opposition to sites in Del City and Northeast Oklahoma City as nothing more than NIMBYism, an acronym for "not in my back," is easy. Correctional facilities rarely receive open-armed welcomes into communities. Still, it unfairly dismisses the legitimate concerns of residents who believe their elected officials have focused on sites in already economically hard-hit communities. 

This article examines the county jail project and explains why residents of communities that will be impacted by it are fighting to keep the new jail in downtown Oklahoma City. We'll also examine incarceration rates in the United States and Oklahoma and offer insight into the reasons for the demand for new jails and prisons.

Current jail location and other potential sites

At the end of 2023, the county disclosed six potential sites, including the current jail's location. Difficulties acquiring some properties, including those near the Will Rogers World Airport and the old stockyards, and concerns over locations along routes taken by children walking to or from schools quickly became evident.

Protests over a site in Northeast Oklahoma City, located six miles from the county courthouse, drew support from community groups and local elected officials, resulting in the site's removal from the list of potential locations for a new jail. Another site drawing criticism was one located near Del City.

A member of the Del City council and its chief of police addressed the county commissioners who objected to the construction of a jail near their city, citing public safety and the negative impact it would have on their community. Regardless, the Del City location remains on the list of potential locations.

Plans call for a larger facility to accommodate the current and future needs of 1,800 to 2,400 inmates. The facility will include courtrooms and expand medical and mental health facilities beyond what the current jail can accommodate. The current population at the jail is 1,246.

County officials rely heavily in their presentations on how the new facility's design blends into its surrounding community rather than stand out from it. A school official who opposes locating the jail in Del City was not impressed by efforts to make it blend in. He understandably believes it's a mistake to locate a jail in relatively close proximity to children.

Building a jail in downtown Oklahoma City

Jails and prisons bring jobs to their communities during the construction phase. Once completed, correctional facilities can provide jobs for residents and generate revenue for local businesses. 

However, residents battling against a new jail on sites in Del City and Northeast Oklahoma City point to excessive industrialization of their communities and the arguable exploitation of areas housing populations of color as legitimate issues rather than mere NIMBYism. Efforts by the state legislature to pass a law effectively making it impossible to locate the new jail at the site of the current one support claims that politics drive the choice of a location rather than what is good for that community.

Building a new jail on the site of the current one places it directly across the street from police headquarters and the Oklahoma City Municipal Court building. Advocates for the continuation of the existing location argue that the proximity to courts, police, and agencies providing services to inmates and those released from custody makes downtown Oklahoma City a more logical choice than locations miles away.

Oklahoma's incarceration rate is shocking

There's a reason there's a need for more space in jails and prisons in Oklahoma. As of 2023, the state had 9,200 people in jails and 22,000 in state prisons. Its incarceration rate exceeds that of the U.S. and 11 other founding nations of NATO. 

As the debate continues over where to build a new county jail, remember that if you face criminal charges in Oklahoma, a criminal defense attorney's skills could be the deciding factor in determining whether you go to jail or prison and for how long. When your freedom is at stake, speak to an Oklahoma City criminal defense lawyer.

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