Oklahoma County Jail CEO wants health care for inmates
Oklahoma County Jail CEO wants health care for inmates

The CEO of the Oklahoma County Jail wants the detention center’s health services to be certified by the National Commission on Correctional Health.

Members of the county jail trust recently approved Brandi Garner’s recommendation to spend $48,960 to hire NCCHC Resources Inc. to provide the jail administration with consulting and technical assistance to help it get there.

Health-related services at the jail are provided to inmates by both medical professionals employed by Turn Key Health Clinic and wardens.

A $7.627 million contract between the jail and Turn Key requires the contractor to work with jail staff to ensure that inmates receive reasonable and necessary health, dental, psychiatric, pharmaceutical and other health and administrative services.

Oklahoma County experienced its first jail death of 2024 on Feb. 26 when inmate Derek Raymond Strother, 31, was found unresponsive in his cell.

Strother has been jailed since Dec. 18, a day after he was reportedly involved in a fatal collision in northeast Oklahoma City. He was charged with second-degree murder, driving while intoxicated and causing a crash that resulted in the death of another driver.

More than 40 detainees have died in the prison since the trust took over on July 1, 2020.

More ▼: Broken Trust: How Oklahoma County Jail Management Failed Those It Meant to Protect

Obtaining a certificate is not required by state law. However, certification will provide assurances from an external, third party that the prison population is being provided with quality health services.

Garner told trust members that the consultant’s doctors, psychiatrists and contract and operations professionals at the prison will review how medical services are provided at the prison by all its staff and how they can be improved.

“It’s no different than auditing ourselves using a third-party entity,” Garner said. “None of us that work there have medical experts that work there (outside of Turn Key).

“How can I know for sure what the law looks like? I have to trust that the company I’m hiring is doing the job, and I think it’s just smart to have that third-party oversight.”

OK County Jail Health Services is not certified as of 2018

The Oklahoma County Jail, Garner said, was previously certified by the National Commission on Correctional Health between 2011 and 2018.

Once recertified, the jail will pay the commission about $13,000 a year to review its records each year (the amount is based on an expected average daily population of 1,300 inmates).

The commission will also make site visits at least once every three years to review prison medical operations.

“We want to look at what we’re doing right, what can be improved and what service gaps may exist” that need to be addressed, Garner said. “This is our hottest topic and the area where we seem to have the most trouble.

“Executing this agreement is the first step in that process,” Garner said.

Providing quality healthcare to inmates is an important task for the prison, she added.

Additionally, Garner said she intends to pursue more jail-related certifications in the future to make sure she provides “first-class service in everything we do,” she said.

The chief executive has already introduced policies designed to boost the training of prison staff.

While Oklahoma only requires 40 hours of training for a prison officer, the prison trust now sends all new employees through a total of 440 hours of classroom and on-the-job training.

“If there’s any way we can get better and improve our services, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re trying to get ready to move into a new facility, and even though that may be years away, we have to start now. This (medical certification) is just the first of many accreditations I would like to pursue,” Garner said.

Prison populations continue to decline, latest data shows

Garner also recently updated trust members with the latest average number of detainees in prison, the most common reason detainees are taken to prison and ongoing efforts to increase staff numbers.

The average number of people incarcerated in February was 1,229 — the March 11 count was 1,211, down from about 1,400 a year earlier — and the average length of a detainee’s stay in jail during the month was 6.14 days. On average, about 59 people are brought into the prison daily.

Garner said the jail’s staff count this week was 256, about the same as last month, despite bringing in 14 new graduates from the most recent academy. Class members began their six-week on-the-job training this week.

“That number hasn’t changed much. We lost several employees (after being placed on administrative leave). It’s just part of the job,” Garner said.

As the jail continues to operate understaffed, Garner said it is using some of its unused staffing funding to incentivize both new and existing employees.

New hires are offered a bonus of $2,500, half of which is paid upon completion of the first year of service and the balance paid after he or she completes the second year of service.

Existing employees are given a $300 anniversary bonus for each completed year of service, up to a maximum of $1,500 over five years.

Quarterly performance incentives have also been developed that will be paid to prison staff who meet set targets.

Additionally, Summit, the contractor that provides inmates and staff with prepared meals, has begun offering free meals (including a salad bar) to prison staff within its dining hall.

“It was a really popular incentive. While what was available before was affordable, free is even better,” Garner said.

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