Greater Oklahoma City Chamber announces Oklahoma County criminal justice task force

Wednesday, December 2, 2015 1:35 pm


Oklahoma City (December 2, 2015) -- The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber today announced the creation of a special task force to evaluate Oklahoma County’s criminal justice system and make recommendations to reduce incarceration, increase efficiencies and improve safety. The work of the task force is in preparation for future investments in the county’s jail and other related facilities.

The task force is being chaired by Clay Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and president of Dorchester Capital. He also serves as vice chair of strategic planning for the Chamber and is a past chairman of the organization.

Members of the task force include: M.T. Berry, Assistant City Manager, City of Oklahoma City; Mayor Mick Cornett, Mayor, City of Oklahoma City; Jim Couch, City Manager, City of Oklahoma City; Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Noma Gurich; Robert Henry, President and CEO, Oklahoma City University; Larry Nichols, Executive Chairman, Devon Energy Corporation; David Prater, District Attorney, Oklahoma County; David Rainbolt, President/CEO, BancFirst Corporation; Bob Ravitz, Public Defender, Oklahoma County; Bob Ross, President and CEO, Inasmuch Foundation; Jim Roth, Counsel, Phillips Murrah, PC; Kris Steele, Executive Director, The Education and Employment Ministry; Tony J. Tyler, Tyler Media; Ray Vaughn, County Commissioner, Oklahoma County; John Whetsel, County Sheriff, Oklahoma County; Terri White, MSW (Master of Social Work), Commissioner, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services; and Roy Williams, President/CEO Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

The task force was formed as a response to ongoing concerns about Oklahoma County’s jail facility. Bennett said that as the Chamber worked with the county to find solutions for the facility issue, it became clear that a broader approach was necessary. “We have transformed Oklahoma City over the last 20 years and enjoy a dynamic, growing City with a quality of life that is second to none,” he said. “We have worked hard to diversify our economy and create a place where our children will want to stay and build their families and careers, but there is a part of our family which is hurting. One in three in Oklahoma suffers the effects of addiction or mental illness. This significant and startling statistic has led to enormous challenges and complexities within our criminal justice system and is a primary contributor to the increases in incarceration at the Oklahoma County Jail. It is time for the business community to focus on this issue as it has become too important to ignore.”

The Chamber has contracted with the VERA Institute of Justice, an independent, nonpartisan social science think tank and consulting organization that has been working with local governments since 1961. They combine research, technical assistance and demonstration projects to help leaders in civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety. They have offices in New York, Washington, New Orleans and Los Angeles.

“We sought out the nation’s pre-eminent organization supporting communities on this journey,” said Bennett. “It is active in 48 states and 10 countries worldwide. VERA’s understanding surrounding the issues and vast experience should help us expedite our project.”

The Chamber has asked the institute to complete an initial analysis and make recommendations for next steps in the process. The task force will then consider those recommendations and develop an action plan for 2016 and beyond.

Bennett reinforced the importance of this process to addressing the initial concern of the jail facility. “The system and the jail must be addressed not only to respond to the Department of Justice but to do the right thing and show leadership. We will likely need to make investments in facilities through a temporary county sales tax and through increases in funding with a small permanent sales tax or increase in property tax. We know we cannot address all of these issues all at once, but we must take a meaningful step as it relates to facilities, reforms and programs. We must conduct a principled, transparent and well-informed process, which, like in all of our recent success, leaves self-interest and politics at the door.  I am convinced we must and will be successful,” he concluded.