|Department of Corrections History
The current Okaloosa County Jail, originally constructed in 1963, was designed to house 120 inmates. As a result of state regulations, the authorized inmate capacity was reduced in the early 1980's to 76 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 drastically improve conditions at the facility as well as pay in excess of a quarter million dollars in fees for the inmates' counsel. Okaloosa County's initial opposition to this order resulted in U.S. Marshals seizing county bank accounts to demonstrate the seriousness of the Court's intentions.
A federal monitor was appointed to oversee the action required by the county. In 1982, a new minimum security addition was opened adding 94 beds. Despite these efforts, the ever increasing inmate population at the jail continued to be an issue. In 1986, a second housing area was opened. This medium/maximum security unit raised the facility's authorized capacity to 248. 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 a 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 jail officials due to overcrowding, brought about a major expansion of the facility in 1992.
As the problems associated with an increasing inmate population have grown, so have the regulations governing the operation of a county correctional facility. Today's jail is unfortunately tasked with dealing on a daily basis with problems such as AIDS, female inmates pregnant with crack babies, the mentally ill, physically handicapped, juvenile and elderly inmates. The 1992 expansion of the Okaloosa County Jail was designed to address these and many other issues. A total of 226 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 bringing the overall design capacity to 594 inmates. However, since that time, the inmate population has continued to grow at an average rate of 9.1% per year resulting in serious overcrowding. The number of inmates housed in the county jail has exceeded 900 on several occasions. Another inmate housing area has been planned for the future that will accommodate another 256 inmates. However, following a Criminal Justice System Study conducted in 2007, recommendations from the study were implemeted 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.