Our Situation

In response to the growing concerns about Oklahoma County’s jail facility, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber created 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 potential future investments in the county’s jail and other related facilities. The Task Force is chaired by Clayton I. Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma City Thunder and president of Dorchester Capital.

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.

“We sought out the nation’s preeminent 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 to expedite our project.”

The Chamber 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 the remainder of 2016 and beyond.


VERA’s analysis has focused on these primary issues:

  • Who should be in the jail?
  • Who is in the jail now?
  • Why are they there?
  • How long are they there?
  • What steps can be taken to ensure the jail holds only those who should be there?

Having a full understanding of these will allow us to use the actual data to determine what can be done to reduce the overall potential population coming into the jail, while keeping public safety at the forefront and ultimately to make the final recommendations to Oklahoma County.

Some of the main issues uncovered in the initial analysis were: 

  • Potentially as many as 80% of inmates are being held “pretrial.” There is now significant work being done to evaluate ways to shorten the pre-trial process as it is currently opposite of what is being done in many other cities.
  • The potential to expand the use of cite and release in the field for many lower level offenses, such as suspended driver’s license, versus being arrested.
  • Efforts to better use risk assessment tools to assess an individual’s risk in determining whether to release.
  • Notification systems that could be put into place to notify someone that they have an upcoming court date therefore reducing many missed court dates and causes for potential subsequent arrests.
  • The analysis of long probation terms which result in more potential for future arrests.
  • Drug and mental health interventions that could be addressed far earlier in the process so people can be diverted to appropriate other programs.

Since that initial analysis, there have been working groups formed around the top issues to be addressed that could affect the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the criminal justice system and ultimately the jail population. These working groups are:

Pretrial Release Processes – reviewing the changes that can be made to the initial booking process at the jail and the move toward a collaboratively planned, risk-based decision making process and expedited first appearance.

Governance - reviewing other models around the country for the ongoing governance of the local criminal justice system including the jail for the implementation of these recommendations and beyond.

Costs, Fines and Fees – reviewing the current fines and fees assessed on defendants or individuals convicted of offenses as the current financial burden caused by this regime can have negative impacts on the mostly low income population passing through the local justice system. These can result in warrants and reincarceration, financial hardships on families, loss of employment and housing etc.

Warrants – further review and analysis as to what types of warrants are resulting in arrest as this appears to be a significant amount of current bookings.

Municipal – further review of the traffic violations that may not require formal booking and arrest and potentially could be handled through a citation and release situation.

Diversion – reviewing the ways to move the diversion determination up in the process so that it is no longer a protracted process and would be able to divert those who are eligible into a program before they are booked into the jail.

VERA is scheduled to present the Task Force with final recommendations by the end of 2016.