Jail moves to ‘felony status’ after equipment failure

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Sheriff Eddie Virden and members of his staff told Osage County commissioners Jan. 18 that the county jail had gone to “felony status” following an equipment failure the previous weekend.

This means the jail will temporarily be accepting only prisoners facing felony prosecutions.

Commissioners were told that a failure in the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system for the jail caused the evacuation of three inmate confinement pods. No prisoners had to be released, but there reportedly was a reduction in overall capacity to house suspected offenders.

Commissioners were also informed that a single quote, for about $360,000 had been obtained in regard to needed HVAC repairs and improvements at the jail. The commissioners voted, 3-0, to authorize going out for bids.

District Attorney Mike Fisher advised the commissioners and the sheriff to proceed with the solicitation of bids, but Fisher also said he would look into the possibility of being able to legally classify the situation as an emergency.

The Sheriff’s Office expressed an interest in using federal American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for the needed repairs and improvements.

The commissioners on Jan. 18 also authorized the Sheriff’s Office to move ahead with advertising for portable 911 computer equipment that would allow the establishment of a remote command post, if needed. The desirability of acquiring this technology has been discussed previously, but a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the Sheriff’s Office and the jail has made the request a matter of heightened urgency. The commissioners were provided a cost estimate of about $45,000, and ARPA money was the suggested source of funding.

In a follow-up conversation, Virden said that finding replacement parts for use in HVAC repairs is likely to be a problem.

“We’re functioning, but we’re at maximum capacity right now with those three (pods) out,” Virden said.