The county jail operated under direction of the Sheriff until 1989 when the Board of County Commissioners established the Okaloosa County Department of Corrections and assumed responsibility for the jail.
The current jail, originally constructed in 1963, was designed to house 124 inmates. As a result of state regulations, the authorized inmate capacity was reduced in the early 1980’s to 82 inmates. Coinciding with this reduction was a significant increase in the number of people being incarcerated, as well as a federal class action lawsuit against Okaloosa County on behalf of the inmates.
The lawsuit, based upon inadequate housing conditions, medical care, and a general lack of funding, was concluded in 1981 with the federal court finding on behalf of the inmates. As a result of this litigation, Okaloosa County was ordered to improve conditions at the facility. Okaloosa County’s initial opposition to this order resulted in the U.S. Marshals seizing county bank accounts to demonstrate the court’s determination.
A federal monitor was appointed to oversee the action required by the county. In 1982, a new minimum security addition was opened adding 82 beds. Despite these efforts, the ever increasing inmate population at the jail continued to be an issue. In 1985, a second housing area was opened. This medium/maximum security unit raised the facility’s authorized capacity to 242. However, as the end of the 1980’s neared, the jail population approached 300 inmates.
Local law enforcement, confronted with an increase in drug activities and soaring crime rate, found themselves maintaining the peace and security of the county through an aggressive arrest policy. At the same time, officials found they were forced to release many of these same criminals due to a lack of space at the jail. These problems, coupled with almost certain litigation from State corrections officials due to overcrowding, brought about a major expansion of the facility in 1992.
As the problems associated with the increasing inmate population have grown, so have the regulations governing the operation of a county correctional facility. The medical staff provides care for inmates who are pregnant, mentally ill, physically handicapped or suffering from a variety of other serious medical conditions. The 1992 expansion of the Okaloosa County Jail was designed to address these and many other issues. A total of 232 beds were added, which raised the facility’s capacity to 474. This figure does not include an additional 7 medical cells that are located in the facility’s medical housing unit.
In 2003, another housing area was completed adding 120 beds and brining the overall design capacity to 594 inmates. However, since that time, the inmate population has continued to grow at an average rate of 3.6% per year resulting in serious overcrowding. The number of inmates housed in the county jail has exceeded 800 and peaked at over 900 on several occasions. Another inmate housing area was planned for the future that would accommodate another 256 inmates. However, following a Criminal Justice System Study conducted in 2007, recommendations from the study were implemented resulting in a decrease in the inmate population. This has allowed the county to hold off on building the new housing area for a while longer.