Almost 1,300 inmates at the Oklahoma County jail were being unlawfully held. The public defender, Bob Ravitz, has reported to the presiding judge and county commissioners that it is three to a cell. While another dozen were being held four to a cell. The routine of crowding in so many has created a great amount of overcrowding to the jail cells. This confinement is unlawful and unconstitutional. Ravitz has asked the District Judge. Don Deason, to order the release of 200 inmates who are less of a risk to public safety.
Ravitz is very adamant about trying to help the situation but seems that he is getting nowhere. He believes that most of the inmates are people who are on probation violations where no new charges exist, sanctions, and low-level crimes. The judge did not immediately act on the request. He said Friday he may schedule a hearing, with the sheriff present. Deason is trying to find alternatives methods to the issue. In the official notice of unlawful conditions, Ravitz reported the jail had 2,446 inmates Wednesday, May 25. He reported a review of jail rolls Tuesday and identified 430 cells holding three inmates — a total of 1,290 inmates. There is also a disregard for their health and safety in these kinds of conditions and situations.
Sheriff John Whetsel, who oversees the jail, and said Friday, May 27, that the public defender’s notice is incorrect on the number of triple-celled inmates. There actually happened to be 250 cells that normally have two inmates. And in those 250 cells, they added a third inmate. While addressing that Ravitz was wrong in his count, Whetsel said that he does support what Ravitz is trying to do to lower the jail population. He said that it is a good thing that Ravitz is trying to get the courts to address the issues that he is seeking addressing. Also, Whetsel wanted to make sure that things looked friendly, not adversial because of the fact that he isn’t trying to be the enemy in the process, just addressing some of the problems with trying to lower the population.
When there was a jail inspection done the issue of three inmates to a cell arose most recently because of a state Health Department inspection of the jail in January. In March, health officials said the facility was in violation of Oklahoma jail standards because there were cells at the time of the inspection that were overcapacity. To help ease overcrowding, county commissioners voted May 2 to no longer hold 196 extra inmates sent from the state’s prisons.
District Attorney, David Prater, encouraged the commissioners to cancel the contract with the Corrections Department. The district attorney pointed out that the U.S. Justice Department still could take civil action against the county unless efforts are made in good faith to address problems. Proposals to build a new Oklahoma County jail have not received much support over the years. Currently, a task force of residents and officials is looking at the entire county justice system in an effort to identify ways to reduce overcrowding.