For the better part of a decade, the Oklahoma County jail has been mired in controversy. In 2009, the jail came under federal oversight following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice that found “unconscionable” violence, abuse, and medical neglect.See Editorial Board, “Smaller Population a Bright Spot for OK County Jail,” Oklahoman, January 3, 2018. A subsequent inspection revealed that the jail, plagued by crumbling infrastructure, held 2,700 people, more than double its intended population.See Editorial Board, “Smaller Population a Bright Spot for OK County Jail,” Oklahoman, January 3, 2018.
Fortunately, 2017 brought some much-needed change. Following on the 2016 release of recommendations by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s Criminal Justice Task Force, criminal justice system stakeholders and civic leaders committed to working together to address the problems facing the jail.Clayton I. Bennett, “Clay Bennett: Working on a Better Way in Criminal Justice,” Oklahoman, October 8, 2017. This included establishing the first Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council, an Oklahoma City and county collaborative body that will oversee reforms to the criminal justice system, reduce the overuse of the jail, and improve conditions there.Josh Dulaney, “In OKC, Criminal Justice Advisory Council Meets for First Time. County Jail, Alternatives are Topics,” Oklahoman, November 15, 2017. See also Rick Buchanan, “OK County Official: Keeping Justice Reform Moving Forward,” Oklahoman (December 8, 2017). The sheriff’s office also began administering Breathalyzer tests for individuals arrested for DUI prior to processing them and releasing those whose blood-alcohol content is at or below the legal limit.Kathryn McNutt, “Oklahoma County Jail Improvements Seen as Population Hits Record Low,” Oklahoman, December 28, 2017.
As a result of these and other reforms, the Oklahoma County jail’s population is the lowest it has been since the late 1990s.Kathryn McNutt, “Oklahoma County Jail Improvements Seen as Population Hits Record Low,” Oklahoman, December 28, 2017. Much work remains to be done: 12 people died while in custody at the jail in 2017.Nicole McAfee, “ACLU Official: Much Work Remains in OK County Jail, Justice Efforts,” Oklahoman, January 7, 2018. But new efforts have provided hope that the county is capable of achieving lasting change.