Justice Department Gives Oklahoma County Two More Years To Fix Jail | KGOU

Justice Department Gives Oklahoma County Two More Years To Fix Jail

Jan 20, 2016

Oklahoma County district attorney David Prater has convinced the federal government to take a step back from possible litigation while the county tries to solve overcrowding and disrepair at the jail facility.

The U.S. Department of Justice has agreed not to take the county to court over the issues for the next two years while a criminal justice task force studies the issue more deeply, The Journal Record’s Dale Denwalt reports:

The DOJ could have entered a consent decree or filed a lawsuit – both of which would have been considered litigation against Oklahoma County.

“They’ve now said they’re not going to do either,” Prater said.

Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, told the Oklahoma City Rotary Club 29 about the DOJ’s decision. Part of the reason the feds are willing to back off is a task force’s involvement and the hiring of a firm to study the county’s criminal justice system.

“The threat of a takeover is now on the sideline,” Williams said. “They all believe we will actually implement a better and broader solution for this process than the feds coming in and taking over the system.”

The Oklahoma County Jail.
Credit Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record

The Vera Institute of Justice will help the task force of business and community leaders give recommendations that could improve the local criminal justice system.

The problems already identified by the Vera Institute include court delays that keep inmates in jail, and that too many nonviolent offenders can’t go through drug court. Inmates also have to pay hefty fines that put them in a serious cycle of debt and re-incarceration when they can’t pay, Denwalt writes:

The task force has agreed to engage Vera for a second, more in-depth study of the county’s criminal justice system and jail, which could take seven to nine months to complete. Williams said there won’t be any proposals to renovate or replace the jail until after the phase-two recommendations are presented.

“By completion of this process, we will begin to understand then what our long-term facility needs are – both the type of facilities we need and the size of the facilities we will need,” he said.

Sheriff John Whetsel, who is in charge of the jail and frequently criticizes conditions there, said he is willing to wait until the public can be presented with the best idea.

“Obviously we have an immediate need and concern, but I’m also very committed to the objectives and the mission of the task force,” Whetsel said. “It’s extremely important that whatever it is we do, we do right.”

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.