Report lays out flaws in local justice system

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board

IN their report detailing the issues and challenges associated with improving the criminal justice system in Oklahoma County, officials with a national nonprofit made this important point: “If the will and the commitment is there, Oklahoma County can have a significantly smaller jail.”

This is the ultimate goal — to reduce the number of people who wind up in the county jail every year. Opened in 1991 with a capacity of 1,200, the jail for the past many years has consistently housed about twice that number. Structural deficiencies have led to calls for construction of a new jail.

Yet as those with the Vera Institute of Justice pointed out in their report Wednesday, a new building — regardless of size — will see the same overcrowding problems extant in the present building if nothing is done to address systemic issues that keep the jail teeming today.

The experts at Vera were brought into this discussion by a task force convened by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. The panel includes city, state and county officials, business leaders, judges, policymakers and others who agree that current practices need to change. Vera's research drives home that point.

Since 1983, the jail population has grown from 495 people to more than 2,500. The number of people incarcerated per 100,000 in population has gone from 119 to 432 in that time. These trends follow those seen at jails across the country.

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