Tulsa County Jail Exceeds Capacity

The Tulsa County Jail is overcrowded.  It exceeded the maximum capacity of 1, 714 inmates on Monday afternoon.  The population count stood at 1,867.  Although population generally ebbs and flows, hitting capacity should alert county leaders that expansion plans must begin sooner rather than later.  When planning, development, funding and construction time are factored in, completing an expansion could take three years or longer when the average daily population will be higher than it is now.

Civil rights attorneys are experienced at demonstrating how overcrowding can present serious health and safety problems within a jail or correctional facility.   In 2011, the United States Supreme Court relied on chronic overcrowding when it ordered the state of California to reduce its population.  See Brown v. Plata, 131 S.Ct. 1910 (2011).

Bryan & Terrill has presented evidence in federal civil rights cases here in Oklahoma that address the risks of a facility that is over capacity.  Overcrowding frustrates the ability of staff to adequately classify the inmate population and house people in appropriate areas based on age, sex, disability, severity of crime, gang affiliation and conviction.  The inability to properly classify inmates can result in housing persons accused of serious violent crimes with those incarcerated for failure to pay a fine.  Inadequate classification can result in rival gang members being housed on the same unit, which can lead to violent outbursts that injure innocent bystandards or staff.

Federal civil rights cases that focus on conditions of confinement also examine how exceeding capacity also raises tensions among the inmate population.  Where resources are limited among the inmates, disputes can arise over bed space.  This is especially true where some inmates receive beds while others are forced to sleep on cots.  The beds become more valuable which can lead to fights and bartering over resources that become more scarce as the population increases.

An overcrowded facility also puts a strain on the physical plant.  Even the jail is required to comply with the space requirements established by the State Fire Marshall who could issue fines against Tulsa County, or in extreme cases, shut down the facility altogether.  The State Jail Inspector could also assess fines against the county for every inmate every day the facility is over capacity.  Such fines can quickly spiral out of control.  Bryan & Terrill lawyers filed a case in 2009 against an Oklahoma facility that involved violations assessed by both the Fire Marshal and the Jail Inspector.

Civil rights lawyers must also consider the impact that overcrowding has beyond the inmate population.  The custodial staff is also placed at risk because overcrowding skews the inmate to staff ratio relied upon to run the facility.  This places staff in the position of improvising their shift routine where improvisation can have serious consequences that include serious injury or death.  The additional inmates also hinder adequate supervision because the number of staff on duty does not increase relative to the population.  This leaves fewer staff to supervise more inmates, which places both groups at risk.

The consequences that flow from overcrowding can lead to serious injury or death.  With populations that generally rise over time, hitting capacity is a warning to county leaders that action should be taken now.  Without expansion, the problem will continue to linger until county leaders implement a more permanent solution.