Non-Profit Creates Community Bail Program To Help Oklahoma County Inmates
A metro nonprofit organization is bailing people out of jail who cannot afford it. The program started as a way to reduce and reform the Oklahoma County jail population.
An attorney for TEEM said on average an Oklahoma County jail inmate will spend about 24 days behind bars and have a bond of $4,000. For many, that is a price to high for freedom.
Through community donations, TEEM has bailed more than 400 offenders awaiting trail out of jail.
A warrant landed pre-trial participant Cheryl Orange behind bars and out of hope.
"I had decided when I went to jail I didn't have the money to pay my bond," said Orange. "So, I went to the cell and I went to sleep. And decided I would sleep until court."
To Orange's surprise she walked out of county long before her court date and into something new.
"They give you tools to help you re-enter life again," said Orange. "And have meaning and purpose in your life."
Clients are guided through the entire court process with an advocate by their side. Attorney and pre-trial director Francie Ekwerekwu works with the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office and public defenders to advocate for the best possible outcome for her clients.
"Our program has a chance to divert people away from prison," said Ekwerekwu. "And make them not another statistic that we add to our problem of mass incarceration in Oklahoma."
She said case workers are selective about posting bail. Judges help them determine the best candidates for community sentencing.
"It's a mix between first time offenders and repeat offenders," said Ekwerekwu. "Largely, more repeat offenders because that's typically the person who is in our jail right now. It's the repeat offender for a low-level crime, don't have money and are unable to bond out."
She adds the pre-trial program also helps offenders keep their jobs and families intact.
Participant Eric Walker is now living a clean life for his six-year-old son Ethan.
Walker was in jail on multiple felony complaints for nearly two months before a case worker bailed him out. Since being involved in the program, he has remained sober and maintained a job.
"I'm very thankful for the fact that they got me out of jail," said Walker. "Because I would probably be doing a little bit of a prison sentence."
But for every success story there are some who do not make it. Nineteen of the 400 plus pre-trial clients have been given prison sentences. Those who no longer want to be part of the system said all they needed was a little saving grace.
"So many doors have opened," said Orange. "So many opportunities and it's not that they hadn't opened before, but I wasn't in the right mindset to accept them."
TEEM offiicals said legislation to reform the state's bail and bond system is expected to be introduced this legislative session. They said the goal is to make it affordable for everyone.