Chamber forms nonprofit justice reform unit (Journal Record)

By: Brian Brus | The Journal Record | June 9, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY – Justice reform is taking shape as a nonprofit organization spun out of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

Chamber President Roy Williams said his organization added a full-time employee dedicated to implementing recommendations from a study last year by the nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice. The chamber is also forming several committees with members from governments and agencies in the Oklahoma City area.

“We’re moving toward creating some kind of permanent governance … or coordinating council with full-time paid staff that spends all its time looking at the county criminal justice system and works to always refine it and make it better,” Williams said. “It should be an independent nonprofit that can contract with public entities but is totally independent so we can stay neutral and objective.”

The chamber contracted with Vera to look closely at the problem-plagued Oklahoma County jail and related justice issues and figure out how to keep the inmate population smaller. 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.

Since then, the chamber has taken the lead in bringing about justice reforms in order to avoid rebuilding a new county jail. The chamber’s committees will focus on implementation, public engagement, legislative activity, pretrial processes, case processing, data collection, behavioral health and facilities.

The movement has plenty of support in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County, Williams said, but not nearly as much financial backing, particularly with an inadequate state government budget and shrinking tax revenue.

“Where you need the money is in infrastructures and facilities like the county jail. Then there are diversion facilities for mental health treatment or addiction,” he said. “We’re going to have to find resources, and they may not come from the state.”

One building that came up in recent committee discussions was the old Oklahoma City jail. The City Council is expected to approve posting a request on Tuesday for proposals to redevelop the building on Colcord Drive. The city’s detention facility is unrelated to the much larger county jail.

“We’re not going to let those kinds of resource problems keep us from moving forward,” Williams said. “We’re going to figure out a way to make this work, with or without state assistance.”

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