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In October, Sheriff Todd Gibson hired Civil Rights Training and Consultants LLC to conduct a compliance audit to qualify for certification under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). That investment has paid off and the certification has been granted.
The PREA audit was the first of its kind for Cleveland County.
“Sheriff Todd Gibson’s attitude toward PREA, his commitment to a fulltime PREA Coordinator, and his participation in narrating one of the facility’s PREA videos that loops during intake, has created a culture of PREA compliance at Cleveland County Detention Center,” auditor Kenneth McNair wrote in the findings.
Audit findings further indicate that the Cleveland County Detention Center met all 45 of the stringent requirements, and the facility is now PREA certified.
Gibson said earning the certification was a priority as part of his commitment to transparency in government and efforts to meet the highest standards in all areas of modern corrections and law enforcement.
“I worked with our staff to ensure that policies were in place to protect inmates and staff from sexual harassment and assault, but we wanted to take it to another level,” Gibson said. “We asked for the audit as an additional layer of accountability and transparency to the people we serve and included the cost of the audit in our budget.”
Gibson said he believes taxpayers want the kind of accountability and transparency an outside audit of this type provides.
While prisons are required to have PREA certification, it is optional for county jails.
“We’re proud to be among the few Oklahoma jails that have this certification,” Gibson said. “I commend Chief Deputy Jacob Wheeler, jail leadership and staff — especially PREA Coordinator Gary Bazemore — for their exemplary work in helping us achieve this goal.”
The current jail population ranges around 325-350 people. Jail occupants are counted several times daily and most jail intakes result in very short-term stays averaging 4-5 days in custody.
The PREA audit was one of several actions Gibson has taken to improve jail operations since he took office in October 2017. Step pay increases, new uniforms and equipment upgrades along with better and increased training helped improve the quality of employees at the jail and allowed the jail to meet the 2019 goal of retaining a 90 percent staffing level throughout the year.
Additionally, jail contracts were rebid to increase efficiencies, and on-the-job injuries were decreased through a more robust health, welfare and safety program. One of those improved contracts included phone service and an accompanying opportunity for a new educational tablet at no additional cost to taxpayers. The new contract also benefits inmates and their families with some of the lowest phone and messaging costs in the state.
Gibson and jail staff launched the new educational tablets — EDOVO (Education Over Obstacles) — in November 2018 to improve inmate educational opportunities, inmate behavior and the overall environment at the jail.
Transparency, innovation and relationships that increase programs and efficiencies, along with other key values, have been difference makers at the facility, but for Gibson, the importance of transparency cannot be overstated.
“We have a modern, state-of-the-art jail where staff are adding and improving programs and safety on a daily basis, and we want to shed a light on that,” Gibson said. “Increasing safety reduces liability, saves lives and saves taxpayer investment.”
Transparency was targeted in numerous ways.
In September 2018, Gibson established the first Community Advisory Board in the nation to give input on jail operations based on a Department of Justice program. Since that time, nine board members from Cleveland County communities have had unprecedented access to jail procedures and practices, offering recommendations for improvement where warranted.
“Establishing the CAB was a way to add another layer of transparency and accountability,” Gibson said. “This diverse group of people serve as the eyes and the ears of the public and many of them have professional backgrounds that make them particularly knowledgeable in a variety of areas from medical and mental health treatment to hiring and retention of jail staff. We are very appreciative of their hard work.”
The addition of Programs Coordinator Kassy Patterson has also made a difference, Gibson said, as Patterson connects veterans, the homeless and those with mental health and substance abuse issues with the needed services inside the jail and to follow them after they leave in hopes of breaking the cycle of incarceration.
“The stereotypes I’ve heard that jails are dank, dark places, is not consistent with the modern facility we run in Cleveland County,” Gibson said. “Our operations are designed to improve safety for staff, inmates and the public.”