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Canadian Co. Sheriff Worried New Law Will Fill Jails

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Right now, the Canadian County Jail is getting slammed with more inmates than it can handle. Right now, the Canadian County Jail is getting slammed with more inmates than it can handle.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

When State Questions 780 and 781 go into effect July 1, they’ll reclassify some crimes making them misdemeanors instead of felonies. The plan is to reduce the number of people doing state time, and use the savings for drug and mental health treatment. 

Right now, the Canadian County Jail is getting slammed with more inmates than it can handle. So many that the jail is shipping inmates to other counties.  And Sheriff Elect Chris West said it’s just going to get worse because of the passage of state questions 780 and 781. 

“Unfortunately we anticipate that the overcrowding situation that we have, where we have to work with these other counties is only going to get worse,” said West.

10/21/16 Related Story: Oklahoma Police Officers Voice Opposition To SQ 780, 781

West said while the plan is to shift more people from state prison to rehab, the reality, he said, is many of those inmates will be shifted to county jails.

"The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor is whether you spend time locked up in the state prison or in the county jail,” said West.

West believes the state is trying to save money by reducing the prison population and dumping inmates into county jails. But backers of State Questions 780 and 781 say the opposite is true.

"The intent is not to put people in jail.  It's to put people in treatment,” said Kris Steele with Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, “And so ultimately over the course of time we should see a reduction in our jail population."

Steele said it’s important to note, this is just the first step, and that the process will evolve over time to include more funding and better options. He said jail will only be used for those who refuse to comply with their treatment plans.

"What we'll see is we'll see a decrease in our county jail population over the course of time as people who battle addiction and mental illness are moved from the jail to the community,” said Steele.

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