In July, a surprise inspection of the Oklahoma County Jail by the state Health Department resulted in the facility being barred from holding juveniles. In addition, inspectors found that procedures were violated in the June 24th death in custody of an adult detainee.
Lee Chouteau, 31, was found dead in the jail's holding area. Chouteau was not examined although a "use of force" incident occurred when he arrived. Inmates are supposed to undergo medical screening upon arrival, but that did not happen in his case. Chouteau was arrested on charges of drunken driving.
Jail officials had agreed to correct certain violations by May, but this was not done. After receiving the report, jail administrator Greg Williams said that "decades" of physical neglect of the facility and poor construction could not be overcome in a few months. Critics have cited the jail's poor design, which makes it difficult for corrections officers to see through cell doors.
The 13-story jail is located just outside of Oklahoma City's downtown. County officials have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to receive funding to build a new facility.
Loss of Certification
An annual inspection in February turned up bedbug infestations, lack of staff, cell overcrowding, cold showers, and cockroaches, among other issues. While a few of these problems were addressed by the May deadline, the bulk of them were not.
The reasons for de-certification include:
- Lack of medical and mental health screenings
- Males and females assigned to the same pods
- Housing of juveniles with adult inmates
- Floors with no officer assigned
- Nonworking emergency phone and intercom systems
- Obscured cell windows, leading to lack of sight checks
- Black residue on cell doors and walls and in air vents
- Bedding changed approximately every six to seven weeks
- Clogged drains
- Holes in walls allowing inmates to move between cells
Inmates on suicide watch are supposed to have sight checks conducted every 15 minutes. Inspectors found that in a one-week period in June, 83 such sight checks were not done.
In areas where inmates could move between cells due to holes in the concrete walls, inspectors found five inmates in one cell with black eyes.
First-Degree Murder Still Applies
The loss of certification does not apply to juveniles charged with first-degree murder. There are currently 13 juveniles held at the jail charged with this crime and only one charged with a lesser offense. That person is 17 years old and charged with one felony count of armed robbery and assault and battery with a deadly weapon. He does fall under the ban.
The ban means sheriff's deputies can no longer bring juveniles arrested for rape, robbery, and similar serious crimes to the jail.
High Mortality Rates
Oklahoma penal institutions have long had one of the highest mortality rates in the nation, and the Oklahoma County Jail's rate is exceptionally high. Between 2016 and 2019, 40 inmates died for an average of 4.77 deaths per 1,000 inmates. The national average is 1.46 deaths per 1,000 inmates.
Statewide, roughly half of jail deaths are due to illness and another 25 percent are suicides. The rest result from substance abuse or homicide or are accidental.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or died while in custody, we can help. We file federal civil rights lawsuits against prisons, jails, and private prison healthcare companies. You and your family may be entitled to financial compensation. CALL US 866.836.4684 or Connect Online to learn your rights. You can also visit our jail death and injury FAQ page to learn more.