Oklahoma County leaders have notified the U.S. Department of Justice that they've done all they can to improve conditions at the county jail without any new funding from a tax increase.
In 2008, the Justice Department determined that inmates were receiving negligent medical care in unsafe conditions, and county officials reached an agreement at the time to institute major upgrades or build a new facility. That agreement expires in November 2014.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma County commissioners said they had to explain to the Justice Department why the county jail still isn't up to standards. The jail, which has a capacity for about 3,000 inmates, has been plagued by problems since it opened in 1991.
Commissioners sent a letter updating the federal government shortly before the shutdown Oct. 1, and the county has not yet received a response.
District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan said he's confident that the issue has been taken care of appropriately, even though voters have shown little interest in a bond issue to pay for improvements.
"I just don't think that the remaining issues merit the DOJ coming in and taking us over," he said. "I just don't get any indication from them in our briefings that that's the case. They have given us accolades about the work we've done.
"None of us are under the impression that what we've done will last forever," Maughan said. "But it's a matter of getting us to a better political climate where it might be possible to address the problem long-range."
The county has made multiple improvements to the facility, including upgrading bunk beds to decrease the likelihood of suicide. Additional staff members have been added to key stations in the facility, said District 3 Commissioner Ray Vaughn.
"We've told them that we basically consider ourselves in compliance," he said. "And we have told them that it appears that we'll be unable to pass any kind of bond issue to build a new jail or do anything drastic with the one we have."
A local business newspaper reported Tuesday that the Justice Department can file suit ordering the county to pay for the improvements within three years. Officials said that would amount to a property tax increase of about $226 on a $100,000 home in the first year alone.
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