Overcrowding for inmates is a big problem for Stephens County. The original jail at the bottom of the courthouse was built 40 years ago and was originally was built to accommodate only 8 female inmates. Stephens County Sheriff Jimmie Bruner says an unfortunate fact is that jails across the state of Oklahoma hold more female inmates than ever before.
In 2000, Stephens County voters approved the male jail to be added on, but the female inmate facility was left behind. Sheriff Bruner says they must come up with the most cost effective way to fix this problem. "At this time that's what we're currently addressing. We have contacted an architect to come look and see if there may be a possibility of revamping it some way," she says.
The county is considering options for female inmates and one of them could be to build a new jail on what is currently a parking lot. Bruner says, about a month ago a representative from the State Health Department, Jail Standard Division, informed her that the cost to bring the women's jail up to code could be astronomical. And, some have suggested placing female inmates in the same building as the males.
"The jail standards say you can't have women and men in the line of sight of each other, says Bruner. She believes the jail improvement could come to a countywide vote if county commissioners approve it. Unfortunately this is a necessity that no state likes to deal with and say housing inmates is a problem across the country.
"Oklahoma houses more female inmates than most states. While we are not proud of that it still has to be addressed. There's no room at DOC, to take them all at one time. We're not the exception - that's pretty much the rule all over Oklahoma," says Bruner.