McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

September 18, 2013

Question about city/county jail agreement headed to attorney general

By James Beaty
D-Hartshorne

McALESTER — Pittsburg County Sheriff Joel  Kerns said he doesn’t mind signing a multi-year contract with the city of McAlester calling for the county to house individuals arrested by city police on city warrants.

He just wants Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to OK it first.

The matter came up during the regular meeting of the Pittsburg County commissioners held Monday at the Pittsburg County Courthouse in McAlester. An agenda item called for the county commissioners to either  approve or disapprove “a county jail services agreement between the city of McAlester and the Pittsburg County Criminal Justice Center,” the official name of the county jail.

During the meeting, District 1 Commissioner Gene Rogers and District 2 Commissioner Kevin Smith tabled the item at Kern’s request, after the sheriff told the commissioners he is requesting an attorney general’s opinion on the matter.

After the meeting, Kerns said he didn’t have an issue with the county and city signing an agreement for city of McAlester prisoners to be held at the county jail.

“We already have agreements with Krebs and Savanna,” he said.

The hold-up is with the terms of the proposed agreement, according to Kerns.

“Their agreement says they want a five-year contract,” Kerns said, referring to  the proposed agreement with annual options submitted by the city of McAlester for the county commissioners to approve.

“The county can’t enter into an agreement for over a year,” Kerns said. District 18 District Attorney Farley Ward’s office has advised Kerns and the commissioners to get input from the attorney general before approving an agreement.

“The district attorney advised us we need to get an attorney general’s opinion,” Kerns said.

In Pittsburg Coubty, all prisoners arrested on felony complaints are booked into the county jail, but the city of McAlester now wants to also book those arrested for lesser offenses, including unpaid traffic fines.

The city of McAlester has previously used its three cells as holding facilities, where inmates arrested on lesser charges were usually not held for more than 12 hours at a time.

Now, they’re not even held that long. All three cells at City Hall have now been deemed unusable, according to Interim McAlester Police Chief Gary Wansick.

Kerns said the proposed agreement calls for the city of McAlester to pay $44 per day for city inmates who will be housed at the county jail, the same as what the state pays for Oklahoma Department of Corrections inmates held at the jail.

“That seems like a lot of money, but I don’t get that,” Kerns said. The sheriff said by the time the state takes its part and various other fees and costs are paid, there’s typically little left for the Sheriff’s Office.

City Manager Pete Stasiak says one of the reasons the city is seeking the agreement with the county concerns the dilapidated condition of the city jail.

If the city and county reach an agreement, then the city plans to start arresting people who have outstanding warrants for their arrest in regard to unpaid fines, according to Stasiak.

Wansick said Tuesday the jail cells at City Hall all have plumbing problems. The cells at City Hall also have other problems, including a lack of air conditioning.

“We haven’t used them since June,” Wansick said.

Since the commissioners tabled the item regarding the proposed agreement between the city and county on the jail issue, it’s expected to come up again Monday during the next regular meeting of the county commission.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.