A Justice Department report rips the Oklahoma County jail as a chaotic and largely unsupervised den of "unconscionable” violence, abuse and medical neglect.
Detailed in the federal report are jail deaths, excessive use of force and a "disturbing” incident in which a pregnant woman was handcuffed to a rail for 10 hours while giving birth to a premature baby.
The child died at a metro-area hospital.
The year-old report was delivered to Oklahoma County officials last week, and Sheriff John Whetsel quickly responded Monday that most of the problems the agency found have already been corrected.
"I am confident that our work to resolve these issues will satisfy the concern expressed by the Department of Justice,” Whetsel said. "I have no problem in telling family members that their loved ones are safe.”
He added, "I can tell you this report is one year old. We have made the corrections.”
However, the seriousness of the report led the U.S. Marshals and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transfer 160 federal inmates from the Oklahoma County jail over the weekend to jails in Tulsa and Grady counties until the issues are officially resolved.
The report details excessive inmate-on-inmate violence and use of force by jail staff, an unsanitary kitchen with birds and insects, lack of clothing and showers, several fire hazards and virtually no mental health treatment. There is also an inadequate investigatory process to review deaths and other serious incidents, according to the report.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department could not be reached for comment late Monday.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Richter said the department's local office was reviewing the letter sent to the county and had no comment.
What's to blame?
The federal report largely blames the mess on overcrowding and understaffing.
"I told you so,” said a news release from District 2 Commissioner Brent Rinehart, a longtime critic of Whetsel's jail management tactics.
Rinehart, who lost his bid for re-election in last week's primary, quoted the report, saying: "Actual direct supervision of detainees at the jail is virtually nonexistent.”
While overcrowding problems have lessened since the agency's inspections between 2003 and 2007, the jail still houses hundreds more inmates than it was built to hold, according to county officials.
About 50 new detention officers have been hired in the past year, but that progress will likely halt.
Read the DOJ report