Success rates after the first year of Rogers County's pretrial release program have spiked from 60 to 90 percent.
The program, headed up by Matt Sparks and Miranda Powers, was launched as a possible solution to the county's jail overcrowding problem.
"In 2017 the jail reached a crisis, between 280 and 300 inmates. That was the tipping point where we realized something had to be done about this," Sparks said, adding that experts were brought in to explore the court and jail systemic the county. "A pretrial program was one recommendation that came from that assessment."
Sparks said he knows of two existing pretrial release programs in Oklahoma, though the concept has been around for 50 years.
"It's about looking at the jail population and realizing who really needs to be there. If they don't pose a risk of flight or they don't pose a risk to public safety—and you've used some evidence-based tools to determine that—do they need to be there," he said.
Powers explained that these are people who can't bond out and would otherwise remain in jail for the up to 190 day court process.
"We've released 141 people to date, since last year, on the supervised pretrial program. We've released more than that on the book and release pretrial program but did not initially track those numbers," Sparks said. "Currently on the pretrial program we have 50 people who would otherwise be in jail. Our population at the jail today is 285, so that makes a big difference. On the book and release program currently we have 59 people."
To be considered eligible for the program, individuals must submit an application that includes multiple references.
For those on the program, the two said they provide court date reminders and, if someone fails to appear, they work with the judge to attempt to get them back on the court docket rather than re-arrested.
"We're limited on what we can require them to do since they have not been convicted of any crimes. We do try to direct them to employment sources and to GED classes. Weekly check ins, possible drug tests
They are subject to search by any law enforcement officer, by giving up their fourth amendment rights while they're on the program," he said.
Sparks said the program shows fiscal responsibility as well.
"Nationwide, incarceration rates are as high as something like $140 per inmate, per day. And while you have to consider static versus dynamic costs in looking at how taking 50 inmates out would save," he explained. "If you consider a modest $25 per day for Rogers County, per inmate, at 365 days per year, it's a savings of $456,250 per year. Our program pays for itself about four times over."
Powers stressed the importance of releasing rather than housing, when possible.
"When you're around it, you learn it," she said of behavior learned while incarcerated.
"Studies have shown it 's important to get someone out of jail as fast as you can, if they don't really need to bet here, because recidivism rates go up the longer they stay in jail," Sparks said. "The longer they stay in jail, the less favorable their outcome is. Nothing good comes from incarcerating individuals that don't absolutely need to be there from a safety or flight risk standpoint."
Despite the success they've seen so far, the two said most people in the county don't know about the program.
While they operate somewhat independently, Sparks said they are still under the budget of the Rogers County Sheriff's Office. He said this means they feel the same budget constraints.
"Let's utilize funds on the front end, rather than the back end. If we can avoid building a multi-million dollar jail by releasing folks that don't have to be there, to make room, then why wouldn't we," he said.