State health commissioner ‘deeply concerned’ after inspectors denied access to Oklahoma County jail

Inspectors with the Oklahoma State Health Department claim they are being locked out of the Oklahoma County Jail and are unable to conduct the annual inspections required by state law.

For the second time in two weeks, they were denied access to the facility for unannounced inspections, Oklahoma State Health Department inspectors said.

On both June 25 and July 9, state inspectors reported being told they were “not allowed to enter the facility because there were not enough staff to support the inspection process.”

The lack of cooperation led to the institution’s inspection being rejected for the twelfth and thirteenth time in a row since 2015, online data shows.

Oklahoma County Assistant District Attorney Aaron Etherington wrote letters to the state health department after each failed inspection, writing after the second instance, “The Department of Health has again exceeded its legal authority by attempting to conduct an unannounced inspection of the detention center.”

The letters under the heading of District Attorney Vicki Behenna call the notice of noncompliance issued to the jail “invalid.”

Of the more than 80 annual inspections of city and county jails conducted by OSDH inspectors in 2024 and reviewed by News9, all were unannounced.

State Health Commissioner Keith Reed sent a response to the district attorney’s office, citing a section of state law that states, “Inspectors employed by the Department of Health may enter all correctional facilities and administrative offices to carry out their assigned duties.”

Reed further wrote that the Attorney General’s Office “is drawing broad, sweeping, and entirely unsubstantiated conclusions regarding the Department of Health’s authority to inspect the Oklahoma County Detention Center.” He added, “I am concerned and troubled by your office’s unsubstantiated position.”

The province offered to host inspectors on three pre-scheduled dates in July and August.

The state health commissioner is not interested, writing: “As it stands, the county is simply communicating its desire to stage conditions for inspections, and is manipulating conditions to obtain the most favorable, even inaccurate, results. This is deeply troubling.”

This all comes as the most recent inspection in 2023 found bed bugs, cockroaches, unreported injuries and a lack of supervision. That inspection was unannounced.

The Oklahoma Department of Health, the Oklahoma County Detention Center and the Oklahoma County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment for this story.

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