The students had been divided into two teams: one assigned to design a campaign in support of a 1-cent county sales tax to build a new jail and the other to oppose the building of a new jail.
Faulconer-Lippert allowed the class to vote on whether to accept Sheriff John Whetsel’s invitation to walk through the jail.
“This political campaign is part of a collaborative learning exercise for my PR students,” Faulconer-Lippert said.
“In teams, the students learn about the intricacies of a political PR campaign and are able to discuss all aspects, sharing insights and ideas with team members.”
Megan Pertiet, diversified studies major, was in the majority who voted to see the 24-year-old lock-up.
She said she wanted to tour the facility because she was curious. It was also a chance to get information for the political campaign project.
Public Relations major Juan Montoya said the jail tour was what he expected.
The jail currently houses more than 2,800 inmates, said Corporal Deputy Ivan Lomeli, one of four staff members that led the tour.
“Sometimes we have to assign three to four inmates to a cell because we do not have enough cells,” he said.
According to the Oklahoma County website, the jail was originally built with 1,200 cells to house 2,400 inmates.
The students walked within reach of the inmates as the group passed through the hallways of the men’s section of the jail.
Some students said it was a scary feeling.
The inmates were cat-calling and talking loudly to the visitors, which the students had been warned could happen.
The jail itself is in bad condition.
Students noticed the windows made of strong plastic material inside the jail were cracked. Their thought was that the glass was cracked from inmates banging their heads on it.
The guards quickly corrected the students and explained that the cracks were from the foundation of the building settling.
Students learned that the jail frequently exceeds its occupancy limits.
Lomeli said, at some point, the jail has to start releasing inmates who are eligible for early release.
“This is the worst county jail in Oklahoma!” yelled one man as the group first entered the area where inmates were being held.
Prisoners would bang on their doors as the class walked past. Some asked if the students were part of the Scared Straight program.
Danielle Grenier, diversified studies major, said she believes it’s important for everyone to tour the jail because it’s an eye-opener.
“We don’t think about the people in jail and their living conditions but its real and it’s happening,” she said.
Guards took the students to the medical area, which had been converted from regular cells, said one of the guards.
The medical area wasn’t included in the original building of the jail; therefore, the staff had to create their own. Cells are used as exam rooms and for the doctor’s office.
Students learned that when an inmate cannot be taken care of at the jail, they are transported to a medical center for treatment.
Improved medical facilities would be included in plans for a new jail.
“At present, according to polling, it could be as many as two or three years” before the 1-cent county sales tax is seen on the ballot for Oklahoma County voters, Faulconer-Lippert said.
For more information, contact Whetsel at 405-713-1051 or firstname.lastname@example.org.