Q&A with Major Garner
On December 16, 2022, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, also known as the Jail Trust, named Maj. Brandi Garner interim CEO of the Oklahoma County Detention Center (OCDC).
Garner has served as director of security at OCDC since January 2022, providing direct supervision of four captains and indirect responsibility for more than 300 employees. Garner served alongside outgoing CEO, Greg Williams, through his last day on Jan. 19, 2023.
Previously, Garner worked in various roles for the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, where she was integral in collaborating internally and with external organizations to build trust and provide accountability.
We were interested in getting to know more about Major Garner and what she brings to the position. We know she is “excited and optimistic to move forward with intention” – read more about Major Brandi Garner’s goals, challenges, and intentions below:
Questions For Major Garner:
Q: This is no easy position–what are some of the challenges you know you will be faced with?
A: I have many challenges ahead, but I am confident in my team and in my approach. Obviously, I am concerned about our mortality rate and the population we are tasked with caring for are, statistically, at higher risk for serious chronic and acute illnesses. Many have substance use disorders and mental illness which also contribute to in-custody deaths. I am evaluating our current policies and procedures and looking for outside-of-the-box solutions in conjunction with county and city leaders and community resources to reduce this number. Some other challenges I will be working to overcome include recruiting and retention, changing the culture of the organization, and continuing to address deficiencies notated in the health department reports.
Q: What are some things you have learned in your experience you feel will benefit you in this position?
A: Beyond the technical experience of working in all areas of a detention facility, I believe my growth mindset, tenacity, and forward-thinking approach will benefit me in this position. These are all things I have learned through my experience, and each has served me well in a career field where change is inevitable but rarely received well. I can recall a time when a former agency head wanted to create a program that contradicted all “jail norms.” I, along with others, attempted to reject it for what we felt were valid reasons at the time. He encouraged us to proceed, and it turned out to be one of the most successful (and rewarding) programs I have ever spearheaded. This experience alone taught me so much about adapting and overcoming obstacles, critics, and rejection to reach a goal. I fully embrace this mindset and I am tenacious enough to get things done.
Q: What are some of your goals in your first 90 days in this role?
- Increase our staffing and retain those who are recruited through leadership development and evaluating operational workflows.
- Evaluating the organizational structure to determine if changes can be made to make more efficient use of available staff to improve workload, reduce staff stress, improve services to our population, and cure deficiencies related to staffing.
- Strategize with key staff to promote a culture of compassion and professionalism.
- Evaluate our current training and increase the amount of training provided to staff on an initial and ongoing basis. I want all of our staff to receive Trauma Informed Response training for criminal justice professionals and will continue to send as many staff members as possible through Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, so they are better equipped to manage those in our care.
- Be more present in our community to build connections and foster an environment of open dialogue. It is important that the community know what issues we are facing, what we are doing to improve, and hear their concerns and ideas.
Q: You mentioned in the recent CAB meeting that everyone in the detention center is there due to trauma. Can you tell us more about how you carry that knowledge in your daily work?
A: In talking with hundreds, if not thousands, of incarcerated people over the course of my career, I began to notice a commonality. Each person has had an event or series of events they experienced that would be considered traumatic. These events are diverse – physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, having a parent who is incarcerated, witnessing domestic violence, mental illness in the home, and so much more.
There is a lot of research on the impact of trauma on all aspects of one’s life. Particularly ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences. ACEs relate to events that happen in childhood that are potentially traumatic. The stress caused by these types of events changes the development of the brain and impacts the individual in the long-term. I want more people in our community to understand this so we can work to reduce ACEs, thus reducing the risk of long-term chronic health conditions, future incarceration, drug use, and more. High ACEs scores correlate to a number of negative outcomes later in life and we all must take a more active role in reducing them in our children.
In recognition of this, I am working to promote a culture of empathy and compassion and will bring Trauma-Informed Response Training to our staff. This training will help my staff have a better understanding and awareness of the impact of trauma and help us all avoid re-traumatizing individuals by developing and implementing trauma-informed responses. It is also my hope to work towards programs aimed at helping parents in our care minimize the impact of their incarceration on their children to help them break the cycle of incarceration.
Q: Any concluding thoughts you would like to share on taking this position?
A: I do not take this position lightly and know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I am confident in my abilities and my team. We have so many wonderful people working at the detention center – many of them see my vision for the future and are as excited and optimistic as I am to move forward with intention. This kind of optimism is infectious, our employees are eager to share their ideas, and I am anxious to explore new possibilities to better support them in this rewarding career. I am grateful for those who believe in us and are supporting our efforts from outside the detention center, too! This is an “all-in” endeavor and the increasing support from people in our community will be key to establishing our legacy of excellence.