OKC finds savings from putting fewer people in jail

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

by Brian Brus

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – City Hall’s new $1.41 million contract for jail services through the Oklahoma County Board of Commissioners is a significant savings compared with the previous fiscal year because of efforts to detain fewer people, officials said.

The city agreed to pay $2.04 million for jail services from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, a figure of about $42 per detainee per day that was based primarily on the previous year’s average police arrest placements of a daily average of 119 detainees in jail. The total also included booking processes and infrequent out-of-county prisoners.

By comparison, the contract for the fiscal year that started July 1 represents a rate of $42.88 per detainee per day while the population fell to an average of 79 daily at any particular time.

The savings is obviously good for City Hall’s bottom line, Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry said. However, it’s being driven by social justice reforms, which, in turn, lead to better finance.

“Our jail population has been reducing over the last several years based on changes we’re making to city ordinances, policies and practices,” Berry said. “For example, we no longer put people in jail who have warrants for not being able to pay; we do indigency hearings. … If the court finds them indigent, other dispositions are made.”

City Hall officials also are reviewing all of the city’s misdemeanor and traffic offenses to determine which ones deserve jail time, he said.

City Manager Jim Couch said those efforts are in response to a study by the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice sponsored by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

The chamber contracted with Vera to look at jail operations and underlying criminal laws to make suggestions that could shrink the inmate population. For several years the county had been under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice for inadequate facilities and oversight leading to civil rights violations. Vera released its report in December.

“It’s really made a difference,” Couch said of actions resulting from the Vera study. “It’s not a full success yet, but we’re in that range while less people are being incarcerated. … We’re still working on the county, which is where most of those changes need to occur at.”

Berry said City Hall has no problems with the jail, nor does it require special considerations specific to standing DOJ concerns.

In 2012, City Hall, the Board of Commissioners and the sheriff’s office jointly established an expedited jail booking process for Oklahoma City Police Department arrests taken to the county jail. The pilot program was deemed successful and the project was continued through June 2017. That process is included in the new fiscal year contract as well.

Read the article at Journalrecord.com