New OKC Jail Study Highlights Criminal Justice Issues

Saturday, February 20th 2016, 6:19 pm
By: Grant Hermes

After a two year grace period was granted to solve civil rights issues at the Oklahoma County jail, a new study from a special county task force is highlighting what needs to be fixed to avoid a federal takeover.

“We've had facility issues for 25 years. The Department of Justice has really pressured the county and said, 'OK enough is enough, y'all (sic) need to fix these things,'” Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce CEO Roy Williams said.

The study, done by the Vera Institute of Justice, highlighted three areas that pose the biggest problems; case delays due to high employee turnover and budget cuts, overcrowding caused by housing low-level, non-violent offenders, and issuing fines or fees on those offenders which the study said may be “counterproductive to public safety.”

“They really gave us a good grounding and an understanding on a very high level; what does the pipeline from arrest to post conviction look like,” Williams said.

Talk of making changes to the jail has been going on for years, but members of the county's Criminal Justice Task Force want to change the system as overall not just what happens after an arrest.

“Not having intervention plans for drug abuse for mental health. We were really just incarcerating those people and not treating them,” Williams added.

Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said in an email the study was a “positive step.” But his praise came with a critique.

"[The institute’s] work does not include the needs of the antiquated and deteriorating jail structure," he said.

Whetsel has raised concerns over overcrowding in the past and has called for jail upgrades or the possibility of a new jail entirely as have swollen to more than double its capacity.

The study is only phase one, Williams said. The task force has already signed off on a second a more in-depth study that will take eight to nine months to complete.