jail
Diana Dickinson

Vera Institute of Justice — a nonprofit organization dedicated to jail reform — recently presented data and possible strategic approaches to the Jail Overcrowding Committee aimed to alleviate jail overcrowding at the Amos G. Ward Detention Facility (AGW).

The Rogers County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) provides oversight over the Jail Overcrowding Committee that was formed more than a year ago to address the high inmate population, resulting in several state of emergencies with the Department of Corrections.

Vera Institute and the BOCC entered into a short engagement contract in December for the institute to conduct the high-level diagnostic assessment.

The conclusion of the assessment showed:

• Most housed in the AGW are awaiting trial.

• Money determines who stays in and who gets out, not whether or not they are a flight risk or a threat to public safety.

• The jail population could potentially grow if a larger jail was built.

• Jail reduction could be accomplished by interagency collaboration and by targeting key drivers of increased jail population.

More extensively, the assessment placed emphasis on ways to reduce the jail population from the point of arrest to post conviction.

From 1999 to 2016, the jail inmate count has grown by an average of 500 percent, going from 48 inmates daily to an average of 284 inmates.

The jail, constructively designed to house 250 inmates, has reached numbers above 300 at times, requiring inmates to sleep on padded “boats,” or force jail administrators to send Department of Correction inmates back to DOC, losing money as a result.

According to the Rogers County Court Clerk's office and District Attorney's office, 44 percent of jail bookings were for misdemeanor offenses or lower-level felonies (drug possession, property crimes and DUI).

This was followed by 34 percent of warrants and 18 percent of more serious felony charges — like murder and other violent crimes.

Broken down, that means there were 1,108 felony case filings in 2016 — which is the highest amount filed during the last 16 year period — while misdemeanors in 2016 were slightly higher, coming in at 1,116 case filings.

As of March 2017, approximately 20 percent of the inmates (excluding those held in sanctions, for other agencies or serving out a sentencing there) have a bond of $5,000 or less; 32 percent have a bond of $5,000 to $20,000; 26 percent have a bond of $20,000 to $50,000; and 25 percent have a bond of $50,000 or more.

Most who are booked into the jail have multiple charges with a bond amount set on the cumulative amount of charges.

Vera Institute suggested a way to change the bond amount is to consider setting a bond on the most serious charge instead.

Additionally, six areas where decisions could be made by those involved in the inmate's processing are during the arrest, charge, pretrial release, case processing, disposition and sentencing, and post-conviction.

One-third of the AGW population have been there for 90 or more days, excluding those there for homicide.

A short-term solution for the growing inmate population is by designating which charges are presumptive for Personal Recognizance (PR) release; setting bond on the highest charge; allowing bond reduction motions immediately; providing counsel for pretrial release motions immediately; creating a notification system; providing fulltime staff for the pretrial release program; and screening of candidates earlier.

Some candidates are in jail for one to two months waiting to hear if they have been approved for alternative court programs, such as Drug Court.

Other observations made for the short-term approach is for law enforcement issue citations instead of arrests since Oklahoma Statute allows citations for municipal and misdemeanor offenses.

A recommendation was given that the jail should invest in community health resources.

In the long xterm, the pretrial program should provide evidentiary-based data using risk scores, which could help guide bond decisions and conditions of nonfinancial release.

Other areas to explore were to see how many people accused of crimes or traffic infractions can pay their bond at different bond amounts; look at who is being selected for the PR release and pretrial release programs now; how quickly they can be selected; and analyze conditions why candidates are rejected.

The next Jail Overcrowding Committee meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. July 6, 2017 in Judge Sheila Condren’s courtroom on the fourth floor of the courthouse.

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