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Oklahoma Jail Dodges $700,000 in Fines

On November 28, 2006, the Bryan County Jail in Oklahoma was fined $15,000 by a local judge for health inspection violations. Both the district attorney and jail officials were elated with the ruling.

The reason they were happy was because the jail had originally faced more than $700,000 in fines based on the inspector?s original report.

State Health Department inspector Alicia Dickerson cited the jail for 24 violations. Alarmed at facing almost three-quarters of a million dollars in penalties, county officials ran to District Attorney Emily Redman for help.

After the jail took the initiative to correct some of the problems, the court dismissed 13 of the 24 citations. The health department then reduced its request to $350,000 in fines, and the court required both sides to submit briefs to support their remaining claims.

The most serious violations cited by the health department included mattresses in the jail that fell below acceptable standards, sub par bedding and blankets, and a constantly wet floor in the laundry room.

The jail took a different approach in its defense. While briefly addressing the deficiencies cited by the health department, Assistant D.A. Greg Jenkins claimed a conflict of interest because inspector Dickerson had a sister and a son who had previously worked at the jail. That argument found favor with the court.

?Based upon the admitted fact that family members of the inspector did work at the Bryan County Jail, there is no question a conflict of interest exists or at least could exist,? ruled Judge James Slayton. ?Based upon the inherent conflict of interest of the inspector ... her testimony must accordingly be discounted.? The judge then reduced the jail?s fine to $15,000.

?We feel vindicated by the fact that the judge agreed with our original contention that there was a blatant conflict of interest on the part of the jail inspector...,? said Redman.

The $15,000 fine assessed by Judge Slayton was based on the finding that mattresses in the jail were deficient and that the laundry floor did in fact remain constantly wet.

The jail blamed prisoners for destroying the mattresses and claimed the unsanitary condition of the laundry room floor was due to a clogged drain which it did not have funds to fix.

However, Judge Slayton?s ruling stated that a lack of funds was no excuse for failure to maintain jail standards.

?Although the county claims to have done its best, the rules and standards are to be followed. There is not an exception found in the standards for a county [that] has done its best,? Judge Slayton wrote.

The Bryan County Jail has been plagued with problems over the past several years, including four jail administrators since the beginning of 2006 (one, T.R. Nelson, lasted less than two months); understaffing; employees disciplined for sleeping on the job and coming to work intoxicated; and twenty escapes from 2003 to 2007.

Sources: Durant Democrat, The Oklahoman

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