Greater Oklahoma City Chamber - Improving Oklahoma County's justice system

Improving Oklahoma County's justice system

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 5:10 pm

Because of the efforts by a new Chamber-led task force to take a holistic look at the Oklahoma County justice system, the U.S. Justice Department has loosened  its immediate pressure to fix problems at the Oklahoma County Jail, Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, told members of the Downtown Rotary Club on Tuesday.

The justice department will now give Oklahoma County two years to institute changes without the threat of a takeover, Williams said, noting that the news came via Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater after recent briefings in Washington, D.C.

Late last year, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber pulled together a task force from a variety of people who have an interest in the county justice system and contracted with the VERA Institute of Justice to analyze ways to help reduce incarceration, increase efficiencies and better serve our community, Williams said at the Rotary Club Tuesday. VERA has presented preliminary information to the task force and will soon work with it on Phase II, which will include a seven- to nine-month analysis and detailed recommendations.

“We also believe that a vibrant and healthy community must have a criminal justice system that is responsive to the community's needs and is fair and is effective,” Williams said at Rotary in explaining the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber’s involvement in this issue.

Too many low-level, nonviolent offenders are taking up jail beds in the Oklahoma County jail and contributing to its overcrowding problem. In the preliminary study, the VERA Institute found that about 80 percent of people in jail have not been convicted but are in jail awaiting trial. Of that number, more than 70 percent have only committed misdemeanor offenses, Williams told Rotary Club members.

There are ways to address these issues in each point of the justice system by looking at the key drivers of jail population that have significant and long-term effect on its size, VERA noted. These include the arrest, pretrial release, case processing, disposition and sentencing and post-conviction.

“By the completion of this process, we will begin to understand the long-term facility needs for the county - both type and size,” Williams said Tuesday. “Only when we have reached this point will there be a consideration of a proposition to go to the voters for their financial support.”

Read more about the task force and see a video from the recent Chamber Forum in January's online version of The POINT.

See recent news stories about the Department of Justice announcement and Williams' speech online at NewsOK.com, KGOU and The Journal Record (subscription required).