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Oklahoma County jail focus of new architecture class at OU

University of Oklahoma students present findings after taking a class with professor Marjorie Callahan on architecture's impact on female incarceration in Oklahoma during the fall of 2019.  [Photo provided]
University of Oklahoma students present findings after taking a class with professor Marjorie Callahan on architecture's impact on female incarceration in Oklahoma during the fall of 2019. [Photo provided]

A new fall class at the University of Oklahoma will look at future design possibilities to improve the Oklahoma County jail.

Marjorie Callahan, an architecture professor at OU, said the class, titled "Re-imagining a jail for Oklahoma City," will focus on site location, cell design, programming, building materials and legal policies that may be restrictive toward innovative architecture.

The overall theme of the class will center around using architecture and design to lower generational cycles of incarceration, particularly when women are incarcerated, according to the class description.

“My first intent was to get stakeholders in the community and us to look at the Oklahoma County jail because the architecture has been so scrutinized,” Callahan said. “My thought was that these young architects would see this as something worthy of thinking differently about.”

For years, issues with escapes, mold and broken elevators and pipes have been among problems at the county jail. Many point back to the original design of the building.

Callahan taught a similar course last fall focused on how design can be used to address high rates of female incarceration in the state. Results from that class were shown to officials with Remerge, a diversion program for women in Oklahoma County.

The upcoming class is what is known as a "Presidential Dream Course," which means professors must apply and get accepted to receive up to $20,000 to bring in guest speakers and outside experts.

Callahan said she had received support from Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert, and she may potentially approach the Oklahoma County Jail Trust, which will operate the jail in the future, for input.

At the end of the semester, an exhibit will be created to show models and designs to the public.

That exhibit and various public discussions throughout the course may also spur conversations around how best to fund renovations of the existing jail or construction of a new one, Callahan said.

In the past, countywide votes to raise a new sales tax for jail funding have failed.

“That is another one of the reasons we put the course together,” Callahan said. “We felt we could help the vote forward if we can put an exhibit out and let people know about this issue.”

Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›

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