The Oklahoma County Jail wins national accreditation, but other challenges remain.
BY CLIFTON ADCOCK
The Oklahoma County Jail has received national accreditation for jail operation from the American Correctional Association, but the beleaguered facility still faces issues with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sheriff John Whetsel said the jail has been working to win accreditation from the ACA for several years. He said the Sept. 10 announcement was the culmination of years of work by jail staff, jail officials and county elected officials.
The ACA accreditation makes the county jail the second facility in the state — Tulsa County’s jail being the first — to earn such distinction, Whetsel said.
He noted it also means jail officials will be in constant contact with the ACA, which will generate annual reports regarding standards and significant event reviews, as well as receive updated plans of actions and conduct regular audits.
While the accreditation is a point of pride for his staff, Whetsel said, he hopes the facility soon will be accredited by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care for its medical and mental health care of inmates.
“This has been a team effort,” Whetsel said. “We have come a long way and we all look forward to maintaining the accreditation for the jail, but we’re not satisfied.”
The ACA designation does not address the facility itself. In 2008, the DOJ’s civil rights division issued a scathing report on the jail, stating that it failed to provide prisoners with reasonable protection from harm, constitutionally required mental health services, and adequate housing, sanitation, environmental and fire-safety protections.
DOJ officials also indicated the jail was understaffed and more than double its capacity, which contributed to higher levels of death and violence there.
Oklahoma County entered into a memorandum of understanding with the DOJ in 2009, with an agreement that the county had four years to house inmates in a facility meeting minimal constitutional standards. Under those terms, the county would have to expand or renovate the jail or build a new one.
Failure to do so, according to the memorandum, would result in the Justice Department taking over the facility.
Whetsel said an architectural firm currently is evaluating whether renovation or construction is the best option.