The Oklahoma County jail had a higher homicide rate than any other large local jail in the nation during a seven-year period beginning in 2000, according to a U.S. Justice Department study that is being criticized by local officials.
"Statistics are statistics,” said Oklahoma County Sheriff's Department spokesman Mark Myers. "Honestly, if you look at the number of people who come here every year and the percentage of deaths, it's safer to be in the Oklahoma County jail than on the streets,” Myers said. "When we spoke to the statistician she said in no way were we at the top of the curve. It's statistics.” According to the numbers released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, if there were an average of 100,000 inmates a day in the Oklahoma County jail, there would have been 30 deaths a year from homicides during the years 2000-07. Using the same parameters, the next highest is the Baltimore jail with rate of 22 homicides per 100,000 inmates a day for a year. By contrast, Los Angeles County, the largest jail in the United States, has a homicide rate of 6 per 100,000 inmates. The study compared death rates among the 50 largest jail jurisdictions. The rate doesn't tell the whole story for Oklahoma County, said Margaret Noonan, the study's author. "All you need is one year where you have a little bit of a peak in the homicides and it can make your rates go crazy,” Noonan said. "They're a smaller so-called top 50 jail and as a result they're very sensitive to fluctuations.” Actually, Oklahoma County falls more in line with most other jails across the country in that there were several years in the study where there were no homicides. "Looking back from 2000 to 2007 hard numbers, we show we've had five homicides in Oklahoma County,” Myers said. "There are 48,000 people on average per year in the jail. For five people to die in a homicide over an eight-year period, those are low compared to what people would see on the streets. We've not had a homicide in our facility since May 2007.” In August 2008, the Justice Department issued a scathing report on the Oklahoma County jail, citing a litany of problems, including rampant violence among inmates, excessive use of force by guards, medical neglect, overcrowding and understaffing.