In a remarkable display of openness, the Orange County Sheriff's Department opened its doors to a group of jail reform activists, lawyers and reporters on Wednesday, March 17. Accompanied by deputies, the group, including this reporter, toured the Orange County Men's Jail and Intake Release Center for three hours that morning, getting a rare up-close view of the inner workings of the county's oldest jail. At one point during the tour, our guide pointed out that the facility was among the nation's safest, with one of the lowest rates of inmate deaths in the country.
Inside the jail that day was Michelle Marie Gee, a 41-year-old mother and drug addict who'd been sent behind bars the previous day for violating the terms of her drug diversion probation. Just hours after our tour ended, Gee perished inside the jail, a death that for some reason the Sheriff's Department chose not to make public, and refused to confirm until the Weekly confronted the agency with independent verification of the incident.