Michigan county jail marks 50th anniversary

High-profile inmates OCJ has housed include a serial killer, "suicide doctor" Jack Kevorkian, a school mass killer and his parents


By Aileen Wingblad
The Oakland Press

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — It's the "Big 5-0" for OCJ.

This Wednesday, Aug. 3, marks the 50th anniversary of operations at the Oakland County Jail.

Measuring approximately 270,500 square feet, the jail spans 12.7 acres at the county's government complex in Pontiac. Construction got underway in December 1969, with the cost for the new facility estimated at $9 million. Once completed, it replaced the Wayne Street Jail, which opened in 1922 near the corner of Wayne and Huron streets in downtown Pontiac. That facility was built for $382,678 to house 88 inmates but soon expanded to handle 259 inmates, according to the Oakland County Sheriff's Office.

Fast forward to December 1986, when ground was broken for OCJ's South Annex. Dedicated in 1989, the annex added 244 cells and 488 beds.

The Oakland County Jail currently houses approximately 1,000 inmates and has a capacity of 1,664 inmates, the sheriff's office said.

"We have seen a tremendous amount of people cycle through these doors from celebrities to murderers," Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard stated in a news release. "Our team has done an amazing job from day one until today. They have faced down whatever challenges have been thrown their way. From direct physical attacks to a variety of medical conditions including Covid. Today, we celebrate not just 50 years of a building being in service but 50 years of great correctional teamwork."

Some of the high-profile inmates OCJ has housed include serial killer Leslie Allen Williams and "suicide doctor" Jack Kevorkian. Current inmates of note include suspected Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, charged with four counts of first-degree homicide and several other crimes, and his parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, who are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Nov. 30, 2021 mass murder.

Bouchard said since he became sheriff, his office has been working with criminal justice partners, including the judiciary, to reduce OCJ's population.

"The focus on who actually needs to be behind bars has allowed us to reduce our average daily population from over 2,200 inmates to typically around 1,400 pre-Covid," he said. "To boil it down into plain terms, my philosophy is those that we are afraid of need to be behind bars and those that society is mad at we need to find alternative punishment that still allows them to work and change their path in life."

The corrections budget for fiscal 2022 is close to $52 million — about 30 percent of the entire budget for the sheriff's office.

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(c)2022 The Oakland Press, Sterling Heights, Mich.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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