The proposal by the city of Claremore to build a transfer station, gun range and inmate farm and work facility in cooperation with Rogers County at a site north of the city could go a long way toward reducing overcrowding at the Rogers County Jail.

The transfer station, reported to cost about $1.6 million and planned to be complete by June 2018, will allow the city’s sanitation department to house trash trucks and reduce waste transport costs. The gun range would replace a current facility operated by Claremore Police that the city says is being encroached upon by development.

Concerns about both those developments were raised by residents at a city council meeting last week and in a county commission meeting on Oct. 2, but funding has already been allocated for the transfer station, and although Rogers County is one of the 20-plus agencies who use Claremore’s firing range, the new gun range will be developed by the city alone.

The inmate farm and work portion of the development is more complex, requiring deeper cooperation between the city and county. Both governments are working on an interlocal agreement to cover both the facilities and the work to be done on site.

“The jail is at maximum capacity, and we just cannot afford another jail,” City Manager Jim Thomas told the Claremore council, as reported by the Progress last week.

But the inmate work facility currently being discussed at the property will not serve as or even resemble a jail.

“What we’re going to do is have a supervised facility using inmate labor,” said Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton.”

The Amos G. Ward Detention facility, opened in 2000, has a capacity of 250 inmates, but is regularly overcrowded, Walton said. In recent weeks the number of inmates held at the jail has sometimes approached 320, and the roster on Thursday morning numbered 293.

“We’ve talked about all kinds of ways to reduce the jail population,” Walton said. “But everything we’re doing is a band-aid.”

Band-aids, however, are far cheaper than shelling out for a brand-new jail facility. Walton said some of the biggest issues with overcrowding concern not the number of beds available at night, but space during the day when close confines for inmates can cause frustration and fights and limit the ability of corrections workers to monitor the jail. To make more space available at the jail during the day, Walton said the proposal would use inmates at the jail who are designated with trustee status to sort and process trash at the transfer station and work in secured greenhouses to grow food that could be used as part of jail meals.

“These people aren’t going to be sleeping out there,” Walton said. “We’re going to haul them all out there and bring them back.”

And the trustees selected to work won’t be randomly selected from the general population of inmates. Rather, Walton said, trustees, like those used now on road cleanup crews, are inmates who lack violent crimes on their record, haven’t had repeated drug convictions, and are judged not to be a flight risk.

“We’ve got people in our jail that I don’t want out picking up trash,” Walton said, “but the people that we send out to work are in jail working out fines, and not ‘public enemy No. 1.’”

Trustees are paid for their work, and Walton said each day worked also removes an additional day from the length of the trustee’s sentence, helping to clear the jail of nonviolent offenders more quickly.

By using inmates to perform city and county jobs at the transfer station and to grow food for the jail, he says Claremore and Rogers County could see benefits all around.

“I think this venture between the city and county is what government should do,” he said. “Working together and not duplicating efforts.

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