After inmate deaths, DOJ plans immediate visit to Oklahoma County jail

Oklahoma County Jail. Google photo.

The U.S. Justice Department is planning a 2018 inspection of the Oklahoma County jail despite being asked to delay their visit.

"We anticipate being on site in the early part of next year," an attorney in the Justice Department's civil rights division wrote.

The Justice Department had wanted to inspect the jail in November but county commissioners voted unanimously to deny the request.

The jail came under federal oversight in 2009 after an investigation found 60 civil rights violations.

The Justice Department last conducted a "compliance monitoring" tour in 2014.

The federal government might seek to take over the jail if there is a bad inspection; a takeover likely would mean the required construction of a new jail, at a high cost to taxpayers.

Commissioners oppose another inspection now because of concerns it will disrupt the implementation of new solutions to overcrowding and other problems.

District Attorney David Prater informed the Justice Department by letter of the commissioners' decision to deny an inspection. He suggested federal officials "simply await developments."

"The reform process initiated by the Department of Justice is still in progress and has impressive momentum," the district attorney penned. "The uncertain threat of future department involvement has been powerful in motivating reform and will continue to be — far much more so than an actual inspection."

In response, Justice Department attorney Cathleen Trainor wrote a tour will be conducted anyway, pursuant to the 2009 agreement, known as the Memorandum of Understanding.

"We appreciate your assurances that the county has made progress towards compliance, and understand that both the county and the state of Oklahoma are invested in reforming your justice system," she wrote Prater. "We anticipate seeing results from these efforts in your next Compliance Report."

"We will review the report and target our on-site monitoring tour with experts, which the MOU explicitly authorizes," she wrote.

Oklahoma County's new sheriff, P.D. Taylor, has made a series of fixes to jail operations this year.

The jail has suffered its setbacks. In July, it had its first homicide since 2014. In addition to the death in 2014, two former jailers are facing a felony assault charge for repeatedly firing pepper ball guns in April at a mentally troubled inmate who later died. The family of the inmate is suing the county over the death.

"Whenever they come, we will be as ready ... as we can be," Taylor said.

No date has been set for the visit.

Copyright The Gayly – December 26, 2017 @ 2:55 p.m. CST.