Behind Bars: ‘Nobody tells us anything’

Editor’s Note:  This story is the second installment in a three-part series exploring inmate experience and jail standards as explained both former-inmates and jail staff. This story focuses on issues of information and communication. Part three will detail safety, security, and operations.

For inmates booked into any jail, the learning curve is steep.

Robin Welch said she didn't know anything about jail before she was booked into the Rogers County Jail this summer

She was processed into the jail, housed in a holding cell, and later moved to a pod for her overnight stay.

"And there was no communication," she said. "I knew nothing…I had no idea about jail. I'm not a jail person. Nobody listens to us, and nobody tells us anything.”

Welch said during booking she asked when she could call her husband—"Of course, you have to have money on an account and a calling card, which nobody tells you. They allow two free calls but—well, I didn't get to call then."

She said, "They didn't tell me anything about anything. I didn't know what I was being charged with until seconds before I walked in the room to see the judge."

RCSO Policy

"Once you're booked in, you go back to the pods and get assigned a court date," Rogers County Undersheriff Jon Sappington said. "Your bond is set within 24 hours in most occasions. We'll let you make a phone call to try to make bond. If you don't make bond, we'll take you to a court a couple days after. You've got access to phones, video chat with family, commissary, and television pods."

Sappington said the Rogers County Sheriff's Office is currently re-working the inmate handbook.

"We've hung it in the pods to keep from printing and carrying it, but they may not be there now," he said. "It details as much as it can. But no one is going to tell you how to use the phone system, some stuff you have to figure out."

Sappington said one of the complaints they receive the most is a matter of misinformation and communication.

"One of the complaints we hear is, how can you keep them there this long? You can only be sentenced to Rogers County Jail for up to one year," Sappington said. "However, your court hearing process can take longer than a year. I've seen them stay up to five years waiting for their court process, but that's usually on more serious offenses, though."

Sappington said they know the process is confusing, both for inmates and for friends and family trying to communicate for, and on behalf of, inmates.

"The website provides some information, but the best information is if you can get an attorney or legal representative that can guide you through the process," he said.

The Rogers County Jail website provides information on commissary, mail, medical services, telephone, visitation, inmate property and inmate accounts.

For those on the outside, trying to communicate inside, the jail website gives instructions for mailing a letter and says: "You may send three appropriate photos to the inmate inside the letter. You may not send newspaper clippings or other items"

The site details how to add money to an inmates commissary account and when commissary is ordered.

"Inmates are permitted free-of-charge telephone use under limited circumstances to include Booking and Status Changes.

Collect-Call telephones are available to inmates," according to the RC Jail website. "All inmate telephone communications are subject to monitoring and recording. The Collect-Call telephone system in use by the Rogers County Jail affords the called number the ability to refuse calls and block calls from being received. Threatening or harassing phone calls should be reported immediately to the jail."

Rogers County Jail offers video-based visitation and appointments may be made on the kiosk in the lobby, or through the website link or phone number provided on the jail site. No rules or guidelines surrounding this service can be found on the jail website.

State Standards

Rogers County Jail administrators say everything they do is in adherence with Oklahoma State Department of Health standards.

Jail standards dictate that "two completed, documented, local or collect telephone calls shall be allowed at time of booking or after a reasonable length of time as determined by the administrator or designee."

On the topic of information and communications, the state says there "shall be no limitations on the volume of mail a prisoner may send or receive as long as the prisoner provides postage."

Further, "incoming and outgoing prisoner mail shall not be read except when such correspondence, in the opinion of the administrator, posses a threat to safety and security."

The number of visitors a prisoner may receive, and the length of those visits, "shall be limited only by facility security, visitation, space and schedules.

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