Payne County Commission inspects jail, hears COVID precautions

Payne County Sheriff Joe Harper began his first term in office Monday after defeating appointed Sheriff Kevin Woodward in the Republican run-off held Aug. 25. Mark A. Moore for the News Press

The Payne County Board of Commissioners recessed its regular weekly meeting Monday to conduct its annual inspection of the Payne County Jail.

The five-story jail was opened July 5, 2009, replacing a much smaller, obsolete jail that was regularly holding inmates over its designed capacity of 54 inmates. The new jail can hold up to 404 inmates and is currently holding 215 inmates, including 60 federal inmates.

Jail administrator Capt. Reese Lane, who will continue in his role as Jail Administrator under Payne County's new Sheriff Joe Harper, led the commissioners' tour.

Although the COVID-19 virus has devastated many jails and prisons, Lane said Payne County has taken steps to avoid that.

“We have the safest place in town,” he said.

Incoming prisoners are isolated for two weeks and must test negative for the virus before being placed in the general population, Lane explained.

Commissioner Chris Reding said an ultraviolet light was placed in the HVAC systems at the jail and the county administration building to help reduce the transmission of the virus.

According to Lane, the only COVID-19 virus intrusion in the jail was brought in by an outside health care worker.

Lane reported that he will be taking the vaccine that will be available to employees in the Sheriff’s office later this week. Reding indicated that only one-third of county employees were signing up to take the vaccine. Newly elected Sheriff Joe Harper said that vaccination will be voluntary for Sheriff’s Office employees.

The jail continues to allow free remote visitation at the jail on Wednesdays from 8:30-11 a.m. Visitors are provided telephone access at a remote designated visitation room in the jail.

Visitation at the jail dropped by 80% after the jail began allowing virtual audio and video visitation for friends and family members of inmates using smart phones, tablets and laptops. The virtual visitation is available for a fee for the visiting party.

The jail continues to provide substance abuse prevention counseling for inmates.

The counselors are required to wear a mask and remain behind a marked line to provide social distancing from the inmates.

Trustees working in the jail were preparing a large batch of beef Stroganoff for the lunch menu.

Lane said he was anxious to start the jail garden to provide fresh vegetables for the meals. He strongly favors Texas sweet onions for use in the jail kitchen. Seeds for the garden are purchased locally at the Stillwater Milling Company, he said.

When returning to the meeting at the county administration building, Reding and Commissioner Zach Cavett concluded that the jail appeared to be clean and well run by the Sheriff’s office.

In other business, the commissioners selected Reding to be the Chairman and Cavett to be Vice-Chairman for the next calendar year.

The commissioners approved Ibrahim Awad’s request to name Baysaan Drive, located Southeast of Stillwater, and further specified that the county would not maintain the private roadway.

The commissioners approved paying 38 weekly purchase orders totaling $12,845.85.

Find Mark A. Moore on Facebook as Mark Moore SNP

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